PD’s Postulations: Best Gators Class? Pt. II

In Part 1, I compared the Gators recruiting classes from 1990 to 2006 based on wins, winning percentage and championships won, in attempts to designate one class a clear-cut “Best of All Time,” a definitive benchmark for this and future year’s recruiting classes to shoot for. The classes of 1990-1994 and 2005-2006 rose to or near the top depending on which metrics were used, but no class definitively stood out as the best based on just these metrics.

So to further separate the classes, this time I will look at contribution. To measure raw contribution to the program, and to winning, I tallied the number of lettermen and starters each class produced, as well as the years of lettermen and starters. That is, if one payer starts for four years, he counts as one starter and four years starting. Since signing classes come in different sizes, I also looked at percentage of signees to letter or to start. Finally I factored in the number of selections to the All-SEC and All-American teams (only the major ones, no Website honorees or blog honorees … blogorees, if you will).

While I was hoping and somewhat expecting this additional layer of measures to provide separation between the classes already identified by wins and championships, looking at these metrics singled out some classes that did not even hit the radar in Part 1, and it did not reflect nearly as well on a couple of classes that lived on the Part 1 leader board.

Right out of the gate, the class of 1993’s No. 1 winning percentage was demystified as expected by looking at player contribution. Along with the highest attrition rate, the large class (23) only produced eight starters and ranked among the lowest tallies in most of this new group of categories. But it was not the worst.

The class of 2005, which had the second-highest winning percentage and tied for the most championship clout, ranked dead last in half of this week’s metrics, with zero SEC All-Freshman honors, only one first-team All-SEC honoree in any year, and the fewest lettermen, total letters won, starters and years of starting. Right behind in number of last-place finishes is 1990, with only one selection to any All-SEC team (first, second or third team), and only six players who became starters.

And this was a class that won a school-record four SEC titles. As these were the first signing classes of Meyer and Spurrier, respectively, this phenomenon should be somewhat expected, however I did not anticipate the delineation to be so clear. By mild contrast, Ron Zook’s first recruiting year was in the bottom group by these measures, but not nearly as poorly performing as the initial classes of Spurrier and Meyer.

On the other side of the equation, a couple of classes came out on top of this group measures that were not distinguished by wins and championships in Part 1. The huge and consensus No. 1-ranked class of 2000 wound up with the most lettermen of any class at 24, and the most letterman years with 74, as well as the second-most number of starting players produced. This was the last of Spurrier’s three No. 1-ranked classes, and his next-to-last class at UF; this was the class of Brock Berlin, Darrell Lee, Max Starks, Shannon Snell and the Scott brothers, Ian and Guss.

This was also a signing class of 32 kids, with a little fudging by counting some back to the previous class and a little pre-spring attrition (one to baseball, three with qualifying issues). This explains the high number, as the percent of lettermen (75 percent) is average for a Gator signing class and the percent of starters is actually on the low side (50 percent).

The highest percentage of lettermen of any class was the class of 1998. That was Spurrier’s 21-man class that included Aaron Walker, Reche Caldwell, Earnest Graham, Robert Gillespie, Mike Pearson, John Capel and Todd Johnson. A whopping 90 percent of that class lettered at UF, with 62 percent becoming starters — also a high mark, ranking fourth among the signing classes reviewed in this analysis.

But the class that stood out demonstrably above all others in this analysis was the group from 1992 — Spurrier’s first No. 1-ranked class that won four-straight SEC crowns and five-straight SEC East titles — the former a feat only equaled once in SEC history by Bear’s Alabama team, and neither of which is likely to be touched again. This was the class of Danny Wuerffel, Lawrence Wright, Jason Odom, Reggie Green, Donnie Young, Jeff Mitchell, Anthone Lott, James Bates, Johnnie Church, Dexter Daniels, Ben Hanks and Bart Edmiston. Reading the names from that class, is it any wonder they rose to the top of this group of metrics?

The 25 signees in 1992 filled an astonishing 17 All-SEC slots in their careers (including an amazing 14 on the first team) and accounted for 11 All-American team selections. This group also produced the most starters (18), the most years starting (47 — that’s nearly half a century) and the highest percentage of starting players of any class (72 percent).

In Part 1, the class of 1992 was in a battle royal with the class of 2006 to lay claim to the title of “Best” in Gator history, but Part 2 of the analysis put a little separation between the two classes in favor of 1992. In Part 3, I will bring even more significant factors and measurements to the table and see if we can gain a consensus of metrics and name the best class (so far) by looking at the final piece of the assessment puzzle. The final group of elements will revolve around the simple but important factor of star power. Until then, remember that every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.

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David Parker
One of the original columnists when Gator Country first premiered, David “PD” Parker has been following and writing about the Gators since the eighties. From his years of regular contributions as a member of Gator Country to his weekly columns as a partner of the popular defunct niche website Gator Gurus, PD has become known in Gator Nation for his analysis, insight and humor on all things Gator.