The dawning of the internet age hasn't completely changed the way that college football coaches court high school athletes each year, but it has completely changed the way that college football recruiting is covered and absorbed by fans. The internet is the perfect medium for a game that changes day to day and sometimes hour to hour. Recruiting sucks in fans in a way that games can't in that recruiting never ends and there are no wins and losses, it is a game of chess that never really ends and is the lifeblood of each and every program.
I remember as a kid in the late-90's that my Dad would call a 1-900 number each night in January as recruiting season wound down to get tiny tidbits as to what was going on that night in Huskies recruiting as signing day neared. I remember his frustration on nights when he would call and there would be little to no new information, but he would not have to wait long, as internet recruiting coverage officially began to take off in 2002 (this is as far back as official recruiting rankings go back for the major outlets) and I also began to get drawn into the drama of recruiting.
Pretty much exclusively following Pac-10/12 recruiting since the Class of 2002, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Top 10 Best* recruits to sign with Pac-10** schools since 2002.
*By best, I am referring to how highly rated they were by recruiting sites/level of hype surrounding their signature/how hard elite schools were recruiting them. Also, a recruit's college career does not at all factor into these rankings.
**Colorado and Utah signees were not considered as the they have had only two classes in the conference and neither has signed a recruit highly touted enough to be considered for these rankings since they joined the conference.
1. Joe McKnight - Class of 2007 - RB - River Ridge, LA - Curtis Christian - USC
-McKnight drew the ill fated label of being "The next Reggie Bush... only better." Is it just me, or do labels like this never pan out? None the less, McKnight was the most heavily coveted recruiting in the nation in 2007 and was crowned as the next great USC running back before he even arrived on campus. USC beat out local school LSU and dark horse Ole Miss for McKnight's signature in a fierce battle which is documented quite well in Bruce Feldman's book Meat Market.
2. Haloti Ngata - Class of 2002 - DT - Salt Lake City, UT - Highland - Oregon
-Long before The Black Mamba shocked the world by de-committing from USC and signing with the Ducks, Ngata shook off an early commitment to hometown BYU and signed with the Ducks who were fresh off a Fiesta Bowl victory. If there is a specific kind of recruit that the West Coast struggles to produce, it is the massive, game-changing defensive tackle and the Ducks struck serious gold when they pulled his signature away from BYU, Washington and Nebraska after a recruitment where it seemed like each school thought they had him at one point.
3. John David Booty - Class of 2003 - QB - Shreveport, LA - Evangel Christian - USC
-Booty was so hyped, that he actually completely skipped his senior year of high school to join a USC class that was one of the most highly regarded in the history of college football. By getting Booty to enroll an entire year early, USC actually pulled off a coup by preventing other schools from stretching out his recruitment over his Senior year. Similar to McKnight, Booty was supposed to be the next great USC quarterback but may have made a mistake in skipping his senior year as he had to sit behind Matt Leinart for three years.
4. Matt Barkley - Class of 2009 - QB - Santa Ana, CA - Mater Dei - USC
-Tall, strong, equipped with a rocket arm, an Orange County pedigree and a head of blonde hair, Barkley looked right out of central casting for the part of 5-star LA quarterback. It came as no surprise when the top rated QB in the nation chose USC over pretty much every other school in the country early in the recruiting process and was immediately tabbed as the starting QB.
5. Mark Sanchez - Class of 2005 - QB - Mission Viejo, CA - USC
-The last of what I would call the "USC QB Trifecta," Sanchez was widely considered the best quarterback in the nation much like Booty and Barkley. A well groomed product of powerhouse Mission Viejo, Sanchez was viewed as college ready even when he ended his recruitment early with a commitment to USC. Barkley and Sanchez are very similar in a lot of ways.
6. Whitney Lewis - Class of 2003 - WR - Ventura, CA - St. Bonaventure - USC
- A physical freak, Lewis was billed as running a 40 in the low 4.3's at 6'1 210. Lewis was supposed to be an Andre Johnson type receiver that could also return kicks and punts, but could have also been a hard-hitting, play-making safety. Trojans fans were arguably even more excited about Lewis than classmates Booty and Reggie Bush when they kept him at home and away from Florida State.
7. De'Anthony Thomas - Class of 2011 - CB - Los Angeles, CA - Crenshaw - Oregon
-One of the most hyped recruits to ever come out of Los Angeles proper, The Black Mamba could have been a 5-star player at four different positions and was expected to be an instant special teams superstar. Very small, but simply so fast and quick that it didn't even matter, USC thought they had the most dynamic player in the Class of 2011 when they locked up Thomas' commitment early in the recruiting process. However, in the most shocking development in Pac-12 recruiting in the internet age, Thomas took a silent trip to Oregon and flipped to the Ducks just before signing day. The switch was so shocking that a number of rumors and theories developed about Thomas' recruitment. In the end though, it is likely that Chip Kelly and the Ducks were able to sell Thomas the idea of being a featured player in their high octane offense.
8. Reggie Bush - Class of 2003 - RB - La Mesa, CA - Helix - USC
-After watching Bush's high school highlight reel again, it seems even more impossible to fathom that recruiting services didn't have him as the top prospect in the nation, or even that close to the top. Bush's moves almost seemed fake and his breakaway speed was breathtaking as he seemed to be able to turn just about any run into a touchdown that looked video game like and effortless. USC actually got into the game late and many thought that Rick Neuheisel and Washington were the favorite to land Bush before he committed to USC.
9. Patrick Turner - Class of 2004 - WR - Madison, TN - Goodpasture - USC
-One of many highly touted receivers from outside of the West Coast to sign with USC during the 2000's, Turner came at the tail end of the "All WR's need to be 6'4+ and 215 phase." A Mike Williams/Dwayne Jarrett type athlete, Turner was tall with a knack for pulling in jump balls and the top rated WR in the nation. USC was able to steal Turner out of the heart of SEC country by offering an elite passing offense that would put his skills on display.
10. Shaquille Thompson - Class of 2012 - S - Sacramento, CA - Grant - Washington
-Drawing comparisons to Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, Thompson is far and away the best safety prospect to come out of the West Coast in decades. Hard hitting, versatile and fast, he is the kind of player who is expected to lead a defense for three years and then head to the NFL. Washington and one of the best recruiting assistants in the history of the Pac-12, Tosh Lupoi, flipped Thompson on a commitment to Cal and held off Oregon and USC to hold onto the recruit who may completely change the image of the Huskies defense.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Prater (2010 WR Hillside, IL USC), Vidal Hazelton (2006 WR Chatham, VA USC), Everson Griffen (2007 DE Avondale, AZ USC), Jonathan Stewart (2005 RB Olympia, WA Oregon), DeSean Jackson (2005 WR Long Beach, CA Cal), Cameron Colvin (2004 WR Concord, CA Oregon), Lache Seastrunk (2010 RB Temple, TX Oregon)