As you may or may not be aware, the Daily Oklahoman (much like the rest of us) is currently feeling the effects of the offseason and as a result has been producing a list of the fifteen best Bob Stoops-era Oklahoma football players. Makes sense, right? Stoops is entering into his fifteenth year as head coach and these kind of lists have long been used to generate conversation in a time where there is little to talk about.
But while listening to Sportstalk 1400 and a discussion regarding The Oklahoman's list, an interesting question was posed. That question was how many, if any, of the players who would eventually be placed on the list (at the time of this post, they were only up to No. 13 Teddy Lehman) would be from 2008 or after?
It was an interesting, albeit not necessarily fair, question to pose. I'll address the interesting part first.
It's of interest to me for any number of reasons, but the most prominent being as someone who follows recruiting (probably closer than I should) there is a general consensus currently that Oklahoma is no longer landing the elite level athletes they once reeled in on a pretty regular basis. The results of which are nowhere more evident than in the struggles of this Oklahoma defense, specifically along the defensive line, both last year and with expectations of once again doing so this coming season.
With respect to the 'fairness' of the question itself, it's somewhat convenient in the sense that judging players from the Class of 2011 or later really doesn't make much sense given how little opportunity they have been given to see the field. So to a certain extent you are narrowing down the size with which you have to sample from thus helping to make the point posed in the nature of the question (i.e. OU isn't recruiting elite level talent).
The difficult part of this type of "analysis" is that there are a number of factors contributing to the drop-off of elite level talent annually arriving in Norman. Part of it was a sense of complacency on the recruiting trail which Stoops appears to have addressed with the recent staff changes. An even bigger part of it is the absence of momentum currently surrounding this Oklahoma football program.
And that is something which is almost impossible to truly quantify and/or put into words. Perhaps an example would serve best in an attempt to explain. Take for instance the current state of the Texas A&M football program. That is perfect storm of recruiting momentum right now. A lot of things had to work out just right for them in order for things to be where they currently stand, but to their credit they are capitalizing on said momentum in a BIG way.
The primary point here being, if you'll forgive the cliche, that momentum is a tricky thing. It's difficult to define and it's impossible to artificially manufacture. You either have it or you don't and right now Oklahoma definitely does not have it. Adding to the frustration is the fact there is no one way to get it back. That said, playing for national championships again, like they did in 2003, 2004, & 2008 would be a really good place to start trying to recapture some of that recruiting momentum.
Be all of that as it may, it is the offseason. You need something to read and we need something to write. So, two birds-one stone as they say.
Before we get started however, one caveat that doesn't really need to be made but we're going to make it anyway. Recruiting ranks are about as inherently flawed as day after "grading the draft" columns. This will be evidenced by the team rankings we'll give you with respect to where Oklahoma finished and how little contribution they have since received from those same recruiting classes. It's a flawed system. It's the reality. Moving on.
Class of 2005
We'll start here as a gauge for the kind of recruiting class most OU fans who follow recruiting are nostalgic for and hoping the Sooners can get back to.
By most accounts, this probably qualifies as Oklahoma's most recent truly "great" recruiting class. It finished No. 3 overall in the Rivals team rankings for that year and included a lot of names you'll remember. Guys like C.J. Ah You, Keenan Clayton, Jon Cooper, Brody Eldrige, Auston English, Demarcus Granger, Nic Harris, Juaquin Iglesias, Brian Jackson, Manny Johnson, Malcolm Kelly, Curtis Lofton, Ryan Reynolds, Duke Robinson, and Reggie Smith.
That's fifteen names from the class of twenty seven guys that were signed all of whom you could argue made a pretty significant contribution (if not more so) over the course of their Oklahoma careers. And that doesn't include guys like Brandon Braxton, Matt Clapp, and Allan Patrick who while not stars necessarily were guys that started and definitely contributed over the years.
The big names at the time of their signing were Granger & Reynolds who were both considered to be five star recruits. As well as the thirteen four star guys Oklahoma signed some of whom you remember (Kelly, Lofton, Smith, Robinson, etc.) and others who you likely do not (Eric Huggins, Brandon Keith, or Jesse White).
To be fair, this is probably more the exception than the rule with respect to an individual class producing this many solid contributors but at the same time that is goal of this whole process.
The other thing to keep in mind here with respect to context is where Oklahoma was at as a program. At the time these guy would have signed (February 2005), the Sooners were coming off their second consecutive national championship appearance (albeit their second consecutive loss in that game). Granted, it was the humiliating loss they suffered to USC but even with that it's still a program who has played in back-to-back national championship games. Adrian Peterson, coming off an incredible freshman season, was coming back for his sophomore year and five star quarterback from the 2004 recruiting class, Rhett Bomar, was waiting in the wings. Oklahoma had about as much momentum as a program could have and that fact cannot possibly be understated when it comes to recruiting.
Class of 2006
Another solid class on paper for the Sooners that proved to be even better as things played out. It finished a respectable No. 9 in the Rivals overall team rankings and was highlighted by the likes of five-star Gerald McCoy, four-stars Jeremy Beal, Demarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham, and Dominique Franks.
But it also included a future Heisman trophy winner in Sam Bradford (three-star), a future All-American and multi-year start in Quinton Carter (three-star), and a future Top 5 NFL Draft pick in Trent Williams (three-star).
It was a class that included 28 players and by my count 18 of those made what many would deem a contribution over the course of their respective careers. If you do the math, it comes to almost 65% of the class that "panned out."
This is also a class, largely (and understandably) due to Bradford, that many point to with respect to the OU coaches ability to develop talent. It's something many feel they have not done as successfully in recent years and likely played a significant role in the staff changes Stoops made earlier this year. Whether it was Bradford, Carter, Williams, Mossis Madu, Pryce Macon, Eric Mensik, or Adrian Taylor the coaches were taking three-star talent and coaching it up to four or five-star level.
That doesn't appear to be happening at the moment or at least not nearly with the same frequency as it once was.