football Edit

Ten teams who built winning classes with losing records

Brian Kelly and Notre Dame are off to a fast start in 2018.
Brian Kelly and Notre Dame are off to a fast start in 2018.

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

With Notre Dame coming off a 4-8 season, its fast recruiting start in 2018 (ranked No. 3 nationally) is a bit surprising. We thought it would be interesting to look at a few other Top 25 recruiting classes over the last few cycles a year removed from losing seasons — proving a quick comeback on the recruiting trail is possible.

Notre Dame’s 2017 class is impressive at No. 13, but much of that recruiting was done with the Irish coming off a 10-3 record and just missing the national playoff. The Irish are now saddled with starting a 2018 class with a 4-8 record, but that hasn’t seemed to hamper them. That’s the case with these programs below as well, with most of the recruiting work being done directly off a losing year.

2016 MICHIGAN: Ranked No. 4 (5-7 in 2014 season)


The headliner: DT Rashan Gary, nation’s No. 1 player

The surprise: TE Devin Asiasi, the nation’s No. 46 player

The sleeper: ATH Chris Evans, the nation’s No. 32 athlete

Farrell’s take: The Wolverines were 5-7 during the 2014 season and much of the recruiting done for the No. 4 class in 2016 was done by Jim Harbaugh before he turned things around on the field. His No. 51 class with only 14 prospects in 2015 was a transition class, but things turned around very quickly with a loaded class in 2016 that culminated in the nation’s No. 1 player, Gary, choosing Michigan on Signing Day. Asiasi was a guy many felt would stay out west and Evans has made an immediate impact at running back for the Wolverines.

2015 TENNESSEE: Ranked No. 5 (5-7 in 2013)

The headliner: DT Kahlil McKenzie, nation’s No. 6 player

The surprise: DE Kyle Phillips, nation’s No. 32 player

The sleeper: ATH John Kelly, the nation’s No. 29 athlete

Farrell’s take: The 2014 class was a great one for Butch Jones and most of the work done in the 2015 recruiting cycle was done with the Vols having another losing record after his first season on the field. I chose this class over 2014 because this was Jones’ first full recruiting class and not a transition class. McKenzie was a legacy, so obviously that helped, but landing Phillips was huge as many felt he was lost to LSU before a late push. Kelly has turned into the running back of the future and is much needed.

2016 TEXAS: Ranked No. 7 (6-7 in 2014)

The headliner: LB Erick Fowler, nation’s No. 13 player

The surprise: WR Devin Duvernay, nation’s No. 52 player (released from Baylor LOI)

The sleeper: DE Malcolm Roach, nation’s No. 42 weakside defensive end

Farrell’s take: This class didn’t save Charlie Strong as he was fired after the 2016 season, but it was his most impressive class at Texas and much of the work was done pushing a losing record. Fowler could be under ‘surprise’ as well with his late flip from LSU, but Duvernay and others chose Baylor but ended up at Texas following being released from the LOIs after the Art Briles scandal. Roach had a great first season as a mid-level three-star prospect.

2017 SOUTH CAROLINA: Ranked No. 16 (3-9 in 2015)

The headliner: WR OrTre Smith, nation’s No. 104 player

The surprise: ATH Jamyest Williams, nation’s No. 159 player

The sleeper: DT Javon Kinlaw, nation’s No. 27 JUCO

Farrell’s take: South Carolina was a disaster in Steve Spurrier’s abbreviated last season and coming back from 3-9 isn’t easy. Landing the No. 16 class this past recruiting cycle with a ton of work done before surprising many on the field in 2016 is very impressive, perhaps the most impressive job on this list. Smith was always a Gamecocks lean but still had to be closed while Williams was thought to be leaning to a few other schools early and then many were convinced he was flipping to Georgia in the end. While he hasn’t played yet, Kinlaw is a guy I could see playing better than his three-star ranking.

2017 MARYLAND: Ranked No. 17 (3-9 in 2015)

The headliner: QB Kasim Hill, nation’s No. 93 player

The surprise: RB Anthony McFarland, nation’s No. 142 player

The sleeper: ATH Brandon Gaddy, nation’s No. 47 athlete

Farrell’s take: Like the Gamecocks, Maryland was a disaster in 2015 which was the last year for Randy Edsall. D.J. Durkin’s efforts trying to keep in-state prospects and other locals interested in the Terps with much of the work done trying to sell a 3-9 season is very impressive, similar to the job Will Muschamp did at South Carolina. Hill was a massive get at quarterback, McFarland was thought to be a lock for Miami for some time and Brandon Gaddy is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential and has a higher ceiling than his brother. The No. 17 class in 2017 is very impressive.

2017 NEBRASKA: Ranked No. 20 (6-7 in 2015)

The headliner: WR Tyjon Lindsey, nation’s No. 62 player

The surprise: CB Elijah Blades, nation’s No. 87 player

The sleeper: DT Damion Daniels, nation’s No. 23 defensive tackle

Farrell’s take: Nebraska, like Texas in 2014, made it to a 13th game but still ended up with a losing record. Mike Riley’s first season came under great scrutiny, especially compared to Bo Pelini’s consistent 9- and 10-win seasons. Lindsey is the headliner, but could also be the surprise and while it became obvious that Blades was headed to Nebraska following his Florida de-commitment, his pledge is a bit of a surprise when you consider he was committed to the Gators since June. Daniels is a massive defensive tackle who could end up being much more valuable to the defense than a three-star. A Top 20 class even with the boost of a good on-field season in 2016 is impressive considering the foundation was laid coming off a losing year.

2016 MIAMI: Ranked No. 21 (6-7 in 2014)

The headliner: WR Sam Bruce, nation’s No. 47 player

The surprise: None, at least of the four-stars

The sleeper: LB Mike Pinckney, nation’s No. 20 inside linebacker

Farrell’s take: Most of the 2016 class was sold despite the ‘Canes coming off a losing season and Mark Richt did a good job closing it out. There weren’t any four-star or higher commits I could find that were really surprises and Bruce was he headliner but obviously never made any impact on the program. But numerous 2016 signees made a huge impact this past season and Pinckney was the sleeper of the group as a three-star. Miami finished with the No. 21 class even with only 19 prospects signed.

2016 CAL: Ranked No. 22 (5-7 in 2014)

The headliner: ATH Demetris Robertson, nation’s No. 8 player

The surprise: RB Melquise Stovall, nation’s No. 192 player

The sleeper: LB Jordan Kunaszyk, unranked JUCO

Farrell’s take: Not only did Cal land Robertson, who would also clearly be the surprise of the class, and former USC commitment Stovall, but the No. 22 class overall was also impressive showing depth. Kunaszyk was an unranked JUCO and late addition to the class and has made a nice early impact as well. With so many Pac-12 teams recruiting so well, this is a good job by the Cal staff.

2015 FLORIDA: Ranked No. 23 (4-8 in 2013)

The headliner: OT Martez Ivey, nation’s No. 4 player

The surprise: None, at least of the four- and five-stars

The sleeper: DT Jabari Zubiga, unranked defensive tackle

Farrell’s take: Following an 11-2 season, Muschamp and staff fell flat with a disastrous 4-8 season in 2013. Yet with some good work by Muschamp and a nice closing job by Jim McElwain, this class had some star power at least. No. 23 isn’t a great showing based on previous results in Gainesville, but when you realize that much of the sales job was done coming off the worst year for the Gators since 1979, that’s right, 1979, then you have to be impressed a little bit.

2016 NORTH CAROLINA: Ranked No. 16 (6-7 in 2014)

The headliner: RB Jordon Brown, nation’s No. 246 player

The surprise: DB Patrice Rene, nation’s No. 22 safety

The sleeper: LB Dominique Ross, nation’s No. 48 outside linebacker

Farrell’s take: Yes it helps that UNC went 11-3 in 2015 and were undefeated in the regular season in the ACC, but many of their commitments came when they were a 6-7 football team coming off a loss to Rutgers in a bowl game. Brown is the highest-rated player in the class and barely in the Rivals250, but there were many four-stars in the class, including Rene, who was a one-time Rutgers commitment. Not many true freshmen made an impact last season, but Ross showed a lot of promise as a three-star.