Home Sporting News Three-Point Stance: Teams that do most with least talent, more

Three-Point Stance: Teams that do most with least talent, more

Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with his thoughts on teams that do the most with the least, 10 more underappreciated players from 2000 and on and some lasting memories from the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.


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1. Programs that do the most with the least 

Iowa State's Matt Campbell

Iowa State’s Matt Campbell (AP Images)

My column and tweet regarding the teams that do the least with the most — essentially the teams with traditionally great recruiting classes who don’t win enough — went over like a lead balloon among many fan bases. So, let’s focus on the positive.

Here are my top 10 teams that do the most with the least amount of star talent out of high school:

1. Iowa State — Matt Campbell has Iowa State rolling and they are a preseason top 10 program in many polls. The Cyclones don’t get top-25 recruiting classes, but in recent years they have regularly been in the hunt for the Big 12 title with mostly three- and four-stars. In fact, Iowa State’s recruiting classes have only finished inside the top 40 once in Rivals.com history, and that was in 2002 when the Cyclones’ class ranked No. 30. Where they are now as a program simply shouldn’t happen.

2. Northwestern — The Wildcats deal with academic standards that most of their peers do not in college football, but Pat Fitzgerald knows how to develop players and work around that. Signing a top-25 recruiting class is very difficult and the highest a Northwestern recruiting class has ever finished was 46th in 2016. That’s right: 46th. Yet the Wildcats have won their division twice in the last four years, which makes teams like Miami, Michigan and others look kind of silly.

3. Wisconsin — Don’t be fooled by the Badgers’ top 15 finish in the last recruiting cycle. Prior to that, Wisconsin had never had a top-25 recruiting class in Rivals.com history, but the Badgers are always in the hunt for a Big Ten title. Few teams do a better job of coaching kids up than the Badgers.

4. Indiana — Tom Allen does an excellent job with the Hoosiers, but even before the his arrival Indiana did a very solid job at developing players and giving Big Ten teams a tough time. There have been some really down years, like 2001 when the Hoosiers were 1-11, but those are rare, and with good classes coming in between 50-60 usually, it’s astonishing.

5. UCF — The Group of Five is represented here as UCF is 47-15 since its disastrous 0-12 season in 2015. The Knights recruit at a high level for the Group of Five crowd but their classes fall well below most Power Five programs of note. Now, with Gus Malzahn at the helm, that could change a bit.

6. TCU — The Horned Frogs had a nice little recruiting run in the early part of the last decade due to the fall of Texas, but they are very up and down. Some years they are Top 25 and other years they fall in the 40-50 range. But Gary Patterson is 69-41 since joining the Big 12 with a conference title and two second-place finishes.

7. Cincinnati— The Bearcats usually fall outside the national top 40 and have finished 63rd and 89th in recent years, which is not good. Yet, their roster is loaded and Luke Fickell is 35-14 since taking over. They’ve always been competitive despite a couple of down years and between Fickell and Brian Kelly, 10 or more wins has become more common than not.

8. Washington — The 2009 season was the last losing season for the Washington Huskies, but based on recruiting rankings they shouldn’t have a playoff appearance under their belt and numerous seasons with eight or more wins. Yes, they have Top 25 classes here and there, but they also have classes outside the top 40 and much of the high end in-state talent gets away. But they keep on winning.

9. Oklahoma State — The Cowboys never finish in the national Top 25. Never? OK, they’ve done it three times in our history but that was ages ago (all before 2007), but Mike Gundy always wins. He’s been the head coach since 2005 and has had one losing season (in that first year). He’s had six seasons of 10 or more wins.

10. Iowa — Kirk Ferentz is Steady Eddie when it comes to recruiting and winning. Most classes are outside the national top 30 and most seasons he wins eight or nine games. He has a breakthrough season here and there, like 12-2 in 2015, but recruiting largely remains the same – very average.


2. Ten more underappreciated players 

Elvis Dumervil

Elvis Dumervil (USA Today)

I took a column off, but I want to reach 100 of these because they are so fun to write about. Here are 10 more underappreciated players in college football from 2000 on.

TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma — The downfield threat caught 25 touchdowns over a two-year period in 2007 and 2008 and he would have broken a ton of records had he not been hurt in 2009. He missed his entire senior year and was still a first-rounder.


WR Torry Holt, NC State — Holt had over 1,000 yards each of his last two seasons in college, including 1,604 as a senior. He scored 27 touchdowns in his final two years as well and was uncoverable.


QB Denard Robinson, Michigan — “Shoelace” ran for more than 1,000 yards as a quarterback his last three seasons and threw for 6,250 yards as well. He was a touchdown and highlight machine and finished sixth in the Heisman voting despite being one of the few weapons on offense.


RB Larry Johnson, Penn State — He had less than 3,000 yards rushing in his Penn State career but 2,087 came in his final season that also included 41 catches for 349 yards. He accounted for 23 touchdowns that season and was simply unstoppable.


WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State He may have been an NFL bust as a high pick but his last two seasons at Oklahoma State were epic. In 2010 he caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 scores and he followed that with 122 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 scores the next year. He was top five in the Heisman voting as a sophomore.


RB Ray Rice, Rutgers — Better known for his domestic violence issues, Rice was a warrior in college, and he helped turn Rutgers from a laughingstock to a dangerous team. In three seasons he rushed for 4,926 yards and 49 scores, including 2,012 his last year, when he was seventh in the Heisman voting.


LB Paul Posluszny, Penn State — Pozluszny won the Bednarik Award twice and finished his career as the all-time leading tackler at Penn State (record since broken). Jack Ham called him the best linebacker to ever play for Linebacker U.


DE Elvis Dumervil, Louisville — All we have to do is a take a look at one season — 2005 — when Dumervil had 63 tackles (22 for loss) and 20 sacks. He was the kind of player that was so good that every undersized rush end was compared to him for the next many years.


CB Antoine Cason, Arizona — Cason was fast and electric. He picked off five passes his senior year and scored four touchdowns en route to the Jim Thorpe Award. He was a dynamic special teams player as well.


DT Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State — Like Dumervil, Bunkley had an amazing 2005 season, with 25 tackles for loss and nine sacks from the interior as an All-American.


3. Five-Star memories

Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen (AP)

Finally, the Rivals Five-Star Challenge is today in Atlanta, and it always brings reminders of great players who competed in it. This isn’t about the best performances or the players that turned out the best. It’s just a collection of memories of certain players that stood out to me, for whatever reason.

QB Josh Rosen — Rosen brashly told me after throwing the first day in Chicago that he was better than all the other upperclassmen quarterbacks there. That included Deshaun Watson.


LB Jaylon Smith — What I remember the most about Smith was how long he was and how great he covered. He was the only one who could stay with TE OJ Howard.


WR Christian Kirk — I remember the debate heading into the Five-Star Challenge: Was Kirk too small to be a five-star? He dominated from start to finish and quickly ended that discussion.


WR Jerry Jeudy — I recall watching Jeudy in the one-on-ones and thinking that this was a kid who could beat anyone he wanted. His route running was just a thing of beauty.


RB Najee Harris — Harris was part of a great group of running backs heading into his senior year while competing with Cam Akers and D’Andre Swift. To me, he was head and shoulders above the rest.


DB Derwin James — I remember the hustle and drive of James as teammate after teammate went down to injury or fatigue and he just kept going. He played offense and defense for a 7-on-7 team I had drafted and his energy and motor were off the charts, as well as his ability.


QBs Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields — The No. 1 and No. 2 player overall in their class, the two came to Indianapolis and competed as hard as anyone. The 7-on-7 came down to a final play with Fields hitting Amon-Ra St. Brown for a score with no time left.


DE Jaelan Phillips — I remember how big Phillips was, but what also stood out is how he didn’t really know how to play out of a three-point stance. And now he’s an NFL first-rounder.