February 1, 2008

Rivals5: Surprise classes

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Every year it seems that the usual suspects are always near the top of the Rivals.com team rankings. With the success on the field, it's no surprise to see teams like Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC and LSU always up there with the best of the best.

But each recruiting year, there's a crop of surprise teams that come out of nowhere and finish with great classes. Rivals.com takes a look at the five biggest surprises in recruiting this season.

Current Class Rank: No. 35 overall, No. 9 in Big 12

It's hard to call the Jayhawks a surprise in anything anymore as this season's effort on the field proved that. There is no question that the Kansas coaching staff has a great eye for talent. They've taken players that were lightly recruited in some cases or needed a little extra time to develop, and transformed them into all-conference players. But this year, the Jayhawks took some major strides, riding the wave of momentum of the Orange Bowl victory, and will finish with the highest ranked class in Mark Mangino's time in Lawrence. The Hawks did a great job in their own backyard, snagging four of the top nine players in the state. Plus, they did some major damage with key junior college players like national offensive player of the year, running back Jocques Crawford.

Current Class Rank: No. 25 overall, No. 4 in Big Ten

Tim Brewster and his staff have flat out gotten it done this recruiting season. It was just over a year ago that Brewster was brought on board, and even with the struggling season, Minnesota football has made tremendous strides in the recruiting wars. The Golden Gophers under Brewster have a legit shot at finishing in the national top 25 something that's never been done before at Minnesota. Stars like MarQueis Gray at quarterback, Brandon Green and Vincent Hill at receiver and Traye Simmons in the defensive backfield could be household names in the Big Ten rather quickly. And so should Minnesota's losing seasons.

Current Class Rank: No. 21 overall, No. 1 in Big East

The Panthers have to rank right at the top as one of the most pleasant surprises nationally this recruiting season. Not only did they make strides on the field late in the season, they've continued to make strides forward in the recruiting wars. Landing five-star receiver Jonathan Baldwin is something that should help spark the offense even more next season. And they've done a tremendous job also on the defensive side of the ball with guys like Shayne Hale expecting to compete for early time. Their offensive line is also going to get a big boost with Lucas Nix coming aboard.

Current Class Rank: No. 49 overall, No. 1 in CUSA

The Golden Eagles have made tremendous strides rather quickly under new coach Larry Fedora. Fedora assembled a great coaching staff that features great coaches and great recruiters like Tony Hughes and Darrell Wyatt. The Eagles are going to finish ahead of several quality teams from the Big 12, ACC, Big East and Pac 10. Wyatt is most well known for recruiting Adrian Peterson to Oklahoma, but his effort at Southern Miss quickly garnered a lot of attention. And Hughes quickly reeled in many of the Eagles top prospects, including star linemen Willie Packer and Quin Sanford. While this class might not register in the top 25, there is definitely a new team to watch out for in Conference USA and things are going to be more difficult for out of state teams to come into Mississippi and get kids away.

Current Class Rank: No. 22 overall, No. 5 in Pac-10

Tyrone Willingham is flat out getting it done in Seattle this recruiting season. UDub might shock some people to be where its ranked, but it shouldn't be a true surprise because the Huskies have a tremendous recruiting base to recruit to major urban area, great facilities, good tradition and a great fan base. The Huskies have done most of their damage this season in the Northwest with the key additions of stars like Kavario Middleton, Everrette Thompson, Alameda Ta'amu. But stealing Chris Polk away from USC also had to be exciting for the UDub coaches. The Huskies have a young nucleus to work with and adding even more high-level talent from this year's class is sure to help them be even more competitive in the Pac-10.

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