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How a Recruiting Class Becomes the Foundation of a CFP Team

Coming off a 37-10 drubbing at hands of their hated-rival Florida Gators in 2009, Florida State Seminoles football was in complete disarray.

The lopsided loss punctuated the end of the Bobby Bowden era at FSU and, truthfully, it could have been worse. The Seminoles were outgained more than two-to-one, gutted on the ground to the tune of 311 yards and 8.0 yards per carry, and they needed a late fourth-quarter touchdown to cut the margin of defeat to 27.

The next season, Jimbo Fisher took over and tasked himself with revitalizing a program that was once synonymous with excellence and had become stagnant with age. In Fisher’s first season, Florida State went 10-4. It was an improvement over the previous season’s 7-6 record, but they didn’t appear any closer to contending for a national championship than they had towards the end of the Bowden tenure.

That all started to change leading into National Signing Day 2011.

By the end of February in 2010, Jimbo Fisher had already been building toward NSD a full calendar year in advance. Fisher secured eight commitments before the ink had dried on the Class of 2010, and it became clear during the recruiting cycle that offseason that the following class had a chance to be special for FSU.

By the time the first Wednesday of the following February rolled around, Florida State had put together the second best recruiting class in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Made up of 29 signees, the Class of 2011 recruiting class for Florida State included names like Karlos Williams, Devonta Freeman, Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan, Nick O’Leary, Bobby Hart and Rashad Greene.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 06 ACC Championship Game - Florida State v Georgia Tech

Rashad Greene headlined a recruiting class that brought Florida State a national championship.

The following fall, the Seminoles went 9-4, but the groundwork had been laid for something special. However, if the 2011 class was the foundation, the 2012 class was the framing.

The Seminoles didn’t have near as much space in the Class of 2012, but their 19-player signing class still clocked in at No. 3 in the national recruiting rankings. Less than two years after they signed with Florida State University on Feb. 1, 2012, seven members of that signing class would start in the national championship victory over Auburn. Over half of the 19 would make a significant contribution in that game.

In total, the Class of 2011 and the Class of 2012 signing classes at Florida State gave the Seminoles 16 of their starters in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game victory. The following season, those two classes provided 15 of the starters in the Florida State loss to Oregon in the national semifinal of the first ever College Football Playoff.

In less than five years, the Florida State Seminoles had gone from 7-6 to winners of 29-straight games, and they did so largely because of the efforts of two dynamic recruiting classes they signed. Two recruiting classes put a program that was battling mediocrity into national championship contention, and it appears Florida State is set to contend for years to come with the continued efforts of Jimbo Fisher and his staff.

In 2015, the top recruiting classes read like a who’s who of college football’s elite. However, there is a name in there that looks like they could have inklings of being the next Florida State-like Phoenix to rise from the ashes on the backs of a couple solid recruiting classes.

On Feb. 5, 2014, Butch Jones’ first full recruiting class at the University of Tennessee was coming together beautifully. The Volunteers were coming off a 5-7 season–their third straight 5-7 campaign and their fourth straight losing record–but they managed to put together a consensus Top 10 recruiting class. Rivals.com named it the No. 5 class in the country.

Jones recruiting efforts were aided by a wealth of in-state talent during the 2014 recruiting season and a number of legacy prospects who grew up familiar with the program. However, considering how poorly the Vols had played in recent years it was still a stunning success.

This past fall, the Vols made great strides on the field, going 7-6 and dominating the Iowa Hawkeyes in their bowl game. On Wednesday, Tennessee managed to parlay that success on the playing field and on the recruiting trail into a consensus Top 5 class. It was the first time the Vols had put together a pair of classes rated inside the Top 5 by Rivals.com in the Rivals era (since 2002).

Now, the Tennessee Volunteers had plummeted to further depths than Florida State could have ever imagined, and they’re still much further from competing for a national championship than FSU ever was. However, if Florida State proved anything with those two landmark classes in 2011 and 2012, it’s that it only takes a class or two to build a team that can compete for a CFP bid.

The Volunteers went 7-6 in 2014, but they just signed their second huge recruiting class in a row, and they’re primed for bigger and better things in 2015 with 18 starters returning and a top-5 class incoming.

It just goes to show that even if you’re coming off a drubbing at the hands of your most hated rivals and things seem hopeless, you’re never more than a couple top recruiting classes away from contention.

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