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The 10 best recruiting programs in the past five cycles

Nick Saban and Alabama
Nick Saban and Alabama (AP Images)

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program, but it doesn’t always correlate to wins on the field. Here’s a look at the 10 best recruiting programs in the country over the past five cycles and how they did on the field during that span. It’s no surprise who’s on top.

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1. ALABAMA 

2015 ranking: 2

2016 ranking: 1

2017 ranking: 1

2018 ranking: 7

2019 ranking: 2

Five-year average: 2.6

Four-year record: 55-4

The skinny: The Tide have piled up wins both on the field and in the recruiting world over the past five years. Alabama has never finished lower than seventh during the last five classes, while also never losing more than one game during that same stretch. The program has become a well-oiled machine in both aspects of the sport and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Farrell’s take: Stunning, right? Alabama has been the best recruiting program for the last decade and the national titles have come with it. Nick Saban is the best head coach recruiter in the game today, and the way Alabama reloads is beyond impressive. The Tide sell winning, NFL dreams and much more - and it works. Only Clemson has given them a run for their money when it comes to on-field results.

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2. GEORGIA 

Kirby Smart and Georgia
Kirby Smart and Georgia (AP Images)

2015 ranking: 6

2016 ranking: 9

2017 ranking: 3

2018 ranking: 1

2019 ranking: 1

Five-year average: 4.0

Four-year record: 42-13

The skinny: If this list was predicated on just the last three classes, the Bulldogs would actually have the top spot. But for now they are still looking up at the Tide. However, there is no reason to feel bad for Georgia, which has quickly entrenched itself as one of the elite programs in the country very quickly. Now the question will be if the Bulldogs are able to maintain this impressive pace for the long haul.

Farrell’s take: Kirby Smart has taken Georgia recruiting to the next level, and the Bulldogs have won each of the last two recruiting titles under the Saban protégé. If Georgia continues to recruit this way, and there doesn’t appear to be anything slowing them down, it will win a national title or two very soon. The Bulldogs have become a national recruiting power, and they weren’t too shabby under Mark Richt, either.

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3. OHIO STATE 

Ryan Day and Ohio State
Ryan Day and Ohio State (AP Images)

2015 ranking: 9

2016 ranking: 3

2017 ranking: 2

2018 ranking: 2

2019 ranking: 21

Five-year average: 7.4

Four-year record: 48-6

The skinny: While there is nothing wrong with finishing third on this list, finishing 21st in the recruiting rankings earlier this year definitely skewed the Buckeyes' final average. The Buckeyes have also enjoyed the third-best record on the field, behind only Alabama and Clemson, over the last four seasons, so while they just dealt with the departure of coach Urban Meyer it is unlikely that their level of success will diminish anytime soon.

Farrell’s take: Meyer is still the best recruiting head coach I’ve ever seen, and he’s the main reason Ohio State is so high on this list when it comes to recruiting and wins and losses. However, Ohio State is in good hands with Ryan Day, and finishing 21st was part of a transition as well as low numbers. The Buckeyes will continue their winning ways and always be a player nationally. The recruiting success Meyer had in the Southeast and in Texas should continue.

4. FLORIDA STATE, LSU (tie) 

FSU:

2015 ranking: 3

2016 ranking: 2

2017 ranking: 5

2018 ranking: 10

2019 ranking: 18

Five-year average: 7.6

Four-year record: 32-19

LSU:

2015 ranking: 8

2016 ranking: 5

2017 ranking: 8

2018 ranking: 14

2019 ranking: 3

Five-year average: 7.6

Four-year record: 36-14

The skinny: These two recruiting superpowers continue to excel. However, for Florida State the last two recruiting classes and on-field performances have caused a certain level of concern in Tallahassee. Going 32-19 over the last four seasons, the Seminoles need to turn things around to regain their recruiting swagger. For LSU, the Tigers continue to be among the elite in the nation in recruiting, but have fallen a couple of notches below rivals Alabama and Georgia on the field in recent years.

Farrell’s take: These are two teams that recruit very well but haven’t been living up to it on the field consistently. Willie Taggart is already under fire at Florida State and was expected to be a great recruiter, but the results are mixed and much of the success is with Jimbo Fisher at the helm. As for LSU, Les Miles did a great job recruiting and Ed Orgeron had a solid year on the field last year, but the Tigers can’t seem to break through in the SEC West.

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6. USC 

2015 ranking: 1

2016 ranking: 10

2017 ranking: 6

2018 ranking: 3

2019 ranking: 19

Five-year average: 7.8

Four-year record: 34-19

The skinny: Finishing fifth on this list is an accomplishment most schools in the country would envy, but for USC there is plenty of anxiety surrounding the program at this point. This is due to the lack of on-field success in recent years, which also led to the Trojans dropping to No. 19 in the 2019 team recruiting rankings. More is expected from USC both on the field and in recruiting.

Farrell’s take: USC should always finish in the top 10 with the massive recruiting advantage the Trojans have in California, so finishing No. 19 last year was alarming, and they are off to a slow start in 2020 as well. Clay Helton is under fire as the head coach and fewer and fewer elite players are staying in state and signing to play for USC. That’s not a good sign. However, if Helton fails, a big-name hire could easily have USC back near the top. The on-field record is actually a bit embarrassing when you consider USC's recruiting edge.

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7. CLEMSON 

2015 ranking: 4

2016 ranking: 6

2017 ranking: 22

2018 ranking: 8

2019 ranking: 9

Five-year average: 9.8

Four-year record: 55-4

The skinny: Coach Dabo Swinney has everything clicking at a very high speed right now in Death Valley, with both recruiting and on-field wins coming at an impressive rate. Matching Alabama’s 55-4 record over the last four seasons, Clemson has also become a national power in the recruiting world, hand-picking elite talent from coast to coast. Tigers fans have plenty to be excited about right now.

Farrell’s take: Clemson has taken that next step in recruiting and is now up there with Alabama when it comes to elite offers around the country. I expect the Tigers' recruiting rankings to get higher and higher and some of their lower rankings are due to small classes. Swinney is one of the elite recruiters in the country and another national title or two is not out of the question. And the Tigers have the best shot of finishing No. 1 for 2020 as well.

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8. OKLAHOMA 

2015 ranking: 14

2016 ranking: 16

2017 ranking: 7

2018 ranking: 8

2019 ranking: 5

Five-year average: 10.0

Four-year record: 46-8

The skinny: The departure of a coaching legend like Bob Stoops may have proven to be a huge challenge for many programs, but the Sooners have continued to excel both on the field and in recruiting. In fact, since coach Lincoln Riley took over the Sooners have experienced even greater recruiting success, which is something not too many people would have expected when Stoops stepped down.

Farrell’s take: Riley has proven to be an elite recruiter and coach, and Oklahoma was already doing very well under Stoops. Without a great geographical advantage when it comes to local talent, the Sooners' results in recruiting have been especially impressive and they continue to draw elite talent from all over the country.

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9. AUBURN 

2015 ranking: 7

2016 ranking: 8

2017 ranking: 14

2018 ranking: 12

2019 ranking: 13

Five-year average: 10.8

Four-year record: 33-20

The skinny: While Auburn will forever be compared to their in-state rival Alabama, but the Tigers have established an impressive recruiting resume for themselves in recent years. However, the victories on the field have not matched up to that level of recruiting. Having gone 33-20 over the last four years, Tigers fans are hoping that on-field success can soon catch up to recruiting success at Auburn.

Farrell’s take: Auburn recruits very well, especially sharing the state with Alabama, but the results on the field have been up and down. Gus Malzahn is constantly under fire when it comes to on-field results and the Tigers haven’t lived up to the recruiting results when it comes to wins and losses. The Southeast is very competitive in recruiting, but that hasn’t been the problem for Auburn. It’s been coaching on the field and some player development. However, the Tigers are still a threat in the SEC West every year.

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10. TEXAS A&M

2015 ranking: 10

2016 ranking: 17

2017 ranking: 10

2018 ranking: 16

2019 ranking: 6

Five-year average: 11.8

Four-year record: 32-20

The skinny: Coach Jimbo Fisher should continue to have the Aggies recruiting at an extremely high level, but it will be more interesting to see how the team performs on the field. Plus, Texas A&M has a revitalized Texas program to deal with when it comes to recruiting in the Lone Star State, which should add another dimension to the in-state rivalry.

Farrell’s take: Fisher is an elite recruiter as we can see by his early results at A&M and the job he did at Florida State. But can A&M break through in the SEC West with Alabama, LSU and Auburn all recruiting at a higher level over the last five cycles? And can the Aggies win crucial battles in Texas against the likes of the Longhorns and Sooners? These will all be interesting subplots to watch.

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