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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Ultimate 300: SEC’s top recruits

By Gerry Hamilton

The ESPN Ultimate 300 looks back at the best recruits since 2006, and it’s hardly surprising that the SEC made its presence felt in the rankings.

Here’s a look at the top five SEC recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300:

Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney's signature moment as a Gamecock was his hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. He was simply the most important recruit in South Carolina history.
DE Jadeveon Clowney,
South Carolina
Ultimate ESPN300: No. 1

Clowney was without a doubt the biggest recruit in South Carolina Gamecocks history, and the type of prospect who changed the perception of the Gamecocks nationwide. While Steve Spurrier and his staff had already kept many of the best prospects at home, keeping the Rock Hill star in-state was huge as South Carolina beat two key teams for Clowney -- archrival Clemson and Alabama. With his highlight-reel plays and freakish ability, the national attention Clowney brought to South Carolina over the past three seasons was unprecedented. On the field, Clowney lived up to the huge expectations, finishing his South Carolina career with 24 sacks in 24 games despite battling injury throughout his junior year. He finished sixth in the 2012 Heisman Trophy race, was a unanimous first-team All-America selection and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He was also tabbed the SEC Freshman of the Year following the 2011 season.

QB Tim Tebow, Florida
Ultimate ESPN300: No. 2

While Tebow was long expected to attend Florida, the signing was huge for Urban Meyer in terms of perception and the future of the quarterback position for the Gators. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner made official visits to Alabama, LSU, Michigan and USC in addition to Florida. Tebow was in the same quarterback class with one-time Florida commit Jevan Snead, who ultimately flipped to Texas shortly before Tebow committed to the Gators. On the field, not many have had the level of success as a college player as Tebow. He was a member of two national title teams and the honors -- SEC All-Freshman Team, 2008 Davey O’Brien Award winner, two-time Maxwell Award winner, a three time Heisman Trophy finalist, Manning Award winner and much more -- seemed endless. He left Florida holding a number of SEC records and is arguably one of the greatest college football players ever.

CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
Ultimate ESPN300: No. 4

This was a key recruiting win for LSU with Peterson (who was using the last name of Johnson at the time) being a one-time Miami commit. The ability for LSU, under Les Miles, to go into South Florida and win a heated battle for one of the nation’s top prospects garnered attention and was another sign that LSU was one of the nation’s top programs both in recruiting and on the field. Peterson made official visits to Florida, Florida State, Georgia and North Carolina in addition to LSU. At LSU, Peterson lived up to his lofty billing. After starting the final four games on his freshman season, he quickly ascended to the top of college football as a sophomore earning second-team All-America honors as well as second-team All-SEC honors. His third and final season at LSU, Peterson took home the Bednarik Award and Thorpe Award, earned consensus first-team All-America honors and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Special Teams Player of the Year.

WR A.J. Green, Georgia
Ultimate ESPN300: No. 5

While it’s normally SEC and ACC programs that raid the greater Atlanta area for top talent, Georgia turned the tables in the 2008 class by signing the star wide receiver from Summerville, S.C. While Green committed in late 2006 and was considered a solid pledge, Mark Richt and staff had to hold off a nonstop effort by in-state South Carolina. Green more than lived up to his billing, garnering SEC Freshman of the Year honors by the coaches and numerous freshman all-america teams after setting freshman wide receiver records for the Bulldogs. He followed up with All-SEC First Team honors as a sophomore and junior.

WR Julio Jones, Alabama
Ultimate ESPN300: No. 6

While former Tennessee corner Eric Berry was higher on the list at No. 3 overall, Jones gets the nod here because of what he meant for the Crimson Tide. The recruitment of the explosive wide receiver was a huge one for Nick Saban and staff, especially considering he was from the key recruiting battleground of Alabama -- the Mobile area. The recruiting win was also key in that Jones made official visits to regional powers Florida and Florida State. With Jones, the Crimson Tide dominated in-state in a class that also included Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Marcell Dareus among others. Jones delivered from the word go for Alabama, setting Alabama freshman records for receptions, yards and touchdowns and earning numerous SEC freshman of the year awards. Jones battled injuries as a sophomore, but was a member of the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national championship team. In his last season in Tuscaloosa, Jones earned All-SEC First-Team honors after hauling in a school-record 78 receptions for 1,133 yards.