Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
In the realm of SEC football, sometimes I wonder what means more to fans -- finishing in the top-10 in recruiting rankings or finishing in the top-10 in the final polls?
OK, I'm being a little facetious, but there's nothing quite like recruiting in the SEC. You can talk about somebody's mama. You can rag on a guy's girlfriend. But you take your life into your own hands when you dis an SEC fan's recruiting class.
Really, though, it looks like the rich just keep getting richer when you look at the most recent recruiting rankings by ESPN's Scouts Inc. Five of the top-12 teams are from the SEC, led by No. 1 LSU.
As we breathlessly await national signing day, here are five recruiting moments from the last five years that made a significant impact on the SEC:
1. Tebow picks Florida over Alabama: It was an extremely tough decision for Tim Tebow, and a lot of people thought he might choose Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Mike Shula did a really nice job recruiting him. In the end, Tebow couldn't say no to the Gators, and the rest as they say (two national championships and a Heisman Trophy) is history. Imagine, though, if he had chosen Alabama. Chances are Shula would still be coaching the Tide, and who knows where Nick Saban would be right now? Maybe at Auburn. Imagine, too, that Alabama offense last season with Tebow operating behind that offensive line.
2. The failed Springdale experiment: First, Houston Nutt hired innovative Gus Malzhan away from nearby Springdale High to be his offensive coordinator. Then Nutt signed four of Malzhan's best players from Springdale's powerhouse program during the 2006 class, including prep All-America quarterback Mitch Mustain. At the time, it seemed like a coup. Little did Nutt know that the whole thing would blow up in his face and eventually contribute to his demise at Arkansas. It was high drama at its best, complete with nasty e-mails, defections and plenty of finger-pointing. The bitter divorce ended with Nutt walking away following the 2007 season and immediately landing at Ole Miss. Malzhan had left for Tulsa the year before, and tight end Ben Cleveland remains the only player from that Springdale quartet on scholarship at Arkansas.
3. Julio and A.J.: Some would prefer the order to be A.J. and Julio. The debate is sure to rage the next couple of years. Either way, there hasn't been two better receiver prospects to come into the SEC in the same year than Alabama's Julio Jones and Georgia's A.J. Green last year. They were freshmen by classification in 2008, but played like future All-Pros. Jones has an NFL body right now and the strength to go with it. Green separates from defenders like few receivers can and led the SEC with 963 receiving yards and tied for the SEC lead with eight touchdown catches in 2008. Sit back and enjoy, because these are two of the best the league has seen at receiver in a long time.
4. Vols' recent classes wane: The 2006 and 2008 signing classes by Tennessee were the lowest rated of Phillip Fulmer's career. The Vols didn't crack the Top 15 in ESPN's recruiting rankings either year, which was unheard of under Fulmer. Two bad recruiting classes and two bad seasons (5-6 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2008) were too much for Fulmer to overcome, and he was fired this past season after carving out a Hall of Fame career at his alma mater. The Vols signed just one of ESPN's Top 150 prospects nationally in each of the 2006 and 2008 classes, and a total of 10 players from those two classes aren't even with the program at this point.
5. Top 15 status for Ole Miss: Ed Orgeron may be at Tennessee right now, but Ole Miss fans can thank him for the bulk of the talent the Rebels put on the field last season. The 2006 signing class, rated 14th nationally by ESPN and the highest rated class in Ole Miss history, produced 13 starters on last season's 9-4 team, including Marcus Tillman, John Jerry, Kentrell Lockett, Allen Walker, Kendrick Lewis and Cordera Eason. Greg Hardy and Dexter McCluster, also from that class, weren't full-time starters, but Hardy was one of the SEC's best pass-rushers with 8.5 sacks last season and McCluster was one of the Rebels' most versatile offensive threats. And after reeling in that talent-laden class in 2006, Orgeron added a quarterback to the mix that next January -- a transfer from Texas by the name of Snead.