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Thursday, January 30, 2014
Ultimate 300: Big 12's top classes

By Damon Sayles

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is bigger than football, but it’s always a fun topic of discussion when the rivalry talk turns to past success. It’s a conversation starter with the release of the Ultimate ESPN 300 class rankings, which ranks every top recruit since 2006. Oklahoma has a dozen players in the Ultimate ESPN 300; Texas has nine.

Here is a look at the top five Big 12 programs that have consistently put together stellar recruiting classes since ESPN began ranking recruits:

1. Oklahoma

The Sooners might start slow some years, but each year they continue to put together top recruiting classes that produce talent that can compete with any team in the country. The 2006 class was one of Bob Stoops’ best, as it produced the No. 1 running back in DeMarco Murray, a future Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. With players such as offensive lineman Trent Williams, wide receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma is one of the most consistent teams in college football. Stoops produces winners.

2. Texas

Under Mack Brown, the Longhorns were expected to do two things -- finish with double-digit wins each season and recruit the state of Texas better than anyone. The Longhorns did the latter well; all nine of their Ultimate 300 members are from the Lone Star State. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, expected to be a high draft pick this May, was the No. 2 player overall in the 2012 class. Running back Johnathan Gray was the No. 2 overall player in the 2012 class. While there are players who entered Texas seemingly destined for greatness, others made names for themselves. Defensive end Alex Okafor was a top-150 player in the 2009 class, and he exceeded all expectations with his play.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have five players in the Ultimate 300. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, No. 56 in the Ultimate 300, played only 2˝ seasons and recorded 147 receptions and 29 touchdowns before being picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2010 NFL draft. As good as Bryant was, fellow receiver Justin Blackmon (No. 203 in the Ultimate 300) was even more decorated. Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, was not ranked coming out of high school. Offensive tackle Russell Okung (No. 220) also wasn’t ranked, but he worked to become a standout lineman for Oklahoma State and the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Okung will play in the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

4. Baylor

When you think of Baylor, you think of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Before he was known as the popular Heisman Trophy winner, Griffin (No. 46 in the Ultimate 300) was a quarterback out of central Texas looking for a chance to prove himself worthy. Griffin, a great track and field athlete who was unranked as a football recruit, silenced critics each year at Baylor and ultimately won college football’s most prestigious award. He and Kendall Wright (No. 188) were a part of Baylor’s 2008 class. Offensive tackle Cyril Richardson (No. 233) joined the team as a member of the 2009 class, and collectively, the Bears were a force to be reckoned with.

5. West Virginia

Coming out of high school in Baltimore, Tavon Austin (No. 171 in the Ultimate 300) was expected to be another contributor. Few outside of West Virginia thought he’d be the dynamic player he has become in the NFL. Austin, at 5-foot-9 and 156 pounds, flourished in the Mountaineers' offense. Austin was a part of a 2009 West Virginia class that also featured a quarterback named Eugene Smith (No. 200) and a receiver named Stedman Bailey (No. 263). Together, Austin, Bailey and Smith -- commonly known as Geno -- put on a show. Geno Smith now is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Bailey, like Austin, came out of high school unranked and made his name by way of West Virginia’s high-powered offense.