Even when Florida State was preparing for the BCS championship in Pasadena, Calif., last month, its coaches were talking about sealing another elite recruiting class.
That dedication paid off Wednesday when the Seminoles landed a consensus top-four class, considered the best in the ACC, on national signing day.
It wasn't flashy — recruiting website 247Sports gave five-star status to only two of FSU's 28 recruits. But the Seminoles filled their needs for depth on the offensive line, potential at quarterback, and playmakers at receiver to replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin.
"They hit all those things," said Chris Nee, a Florida-based recruiting analyst for 247Sports.
FSU bolstered its offensive line by landing eight players with an average height and weight of 6 feet 6, 312 pounds. All three incoming receivers are considered at least four-star prospects.
It's unclear how much of an impact FSU gained from the program's third national championship. Most of the class committed before coach Jimbo Fisher lifted the crystal ball at the Rose Bowl, although receiver Ermon Lane of Homestead was a Florida commit before he chose FSU on Wednesday.
"I think it'll have an even bigger effect on next year's class," Fisher said.
While FSU landed the top class in the state and one of the best in the country, it and everyone else lagged far behind consensus top-ranked Alabama.
"They're the best in the country," Nee said. "And it's not close."
The Crimson Tide had Rivals' and 247Sports' No. 1 class each of the past four seasons, but this was the most decorated class of coach Nick Saban's career. Alabama gained six five-star talents in a class Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell called, "historically good."
Alabama picked up the country's top recruit (defensive end Da'Shawn Hand) plus the No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 1 center and No. 2 athlete. The coronation became complete after the nation's No. 1 linebacker, Rashaan Evans, announced on national television he would sign with the Tide — even though he went to Auburn High School and his dad played for the rival Tigers.
"To go in and get a legacy out of Auburn, that's a message," Farrell said.
Florida sent its own message: The worst season in three decades doesn't mean the program is falling apart. UF's 24-member class was ranked as high as sixth nationally, by ESPN, and includes quarterbacks Will Grier, Parade magazine's national player of the year, and Treon Harris, who flipped from FSU on Wednesday.
"Any team that finishes in the top 10 coming off of a 4-8 season, that's pretty impressive," Nee said.
USF's 2-10 season didn't scare away recruits, either. The Bulls' Tampa Bay-heavy class of 28 players was the second-largest in school history and the most highly regarded in the American Athletic Conference.
Nine members of the class were rated a four-star recruit by at least one national service, including six by ESPN. Rivals considered it the No. 39 class in the country — the highest the Bulls have been ranked by the recruiting website since 2009.
"I think that's big for our fans," USF coach Willie Taggart said. "I think it's big to see some progress. It's big for us to continue to make positive progress. That's what we've got to constantly do, and that's how it should be here at USF. That's the expectation. We said that from Day 1."
Aside from Ohio State, the Southeast was home to all of the other big winners.
The Buckeyes and Seminoles were the only two programs outside of the SEC that had top-nine classes. LSU was the nation's consensus No. 2 class while Texas A&M, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia — all from the SEC — joined the Gators and Tide as the country's biggest winners.
Miami was close. With the cloud of NCAA sanctions gone, the Hurricanes claimed a class ranked 10th nationally by ESPN. It includes five-star defensive end Chad Thomas and four-star running back Joseph Yearby.
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]m.