Feb. 3 is the initial signing date for football letters of intent. In the ESPN 300 era (since 2006), every national champion has had a top-10 recruiting class in the ESPN rankings immediately before winning its title. Taking it further, all but one of those national champions had at least one top-five class in the three years before winning the championship.
Here's a look from ESPN Stats & Information at the recruiting competition between Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan and their coaches.
As of Wednesday, Ohio State has ESPN’s No. 1 recruiting class. Since ESPN began ranking classes in 2006, the only school outside the Deep South to finish No. 1 was Southern California in 2007. That Trojans class was headlined by running back Joe McKnight, the No. 1 player in the ESPN 300.
Coach Urban Meyer is looking to secure ESPN’s No. 1 recruiting class for the first time at Ohio State and for the third time overall (he did so in 2006 and 2010 at Florida). The 2006 Florida class included quarterback Tim Tebow, and the Gators won the national championship that season.
Entering 2016, Nick Saban (four) and Meyer (two) are the only coaches to finish with multiple No. 1 classes since ESPN began its rankings in 2006.
Entering 2016, Meyer had the highest-ranked recruiting class in his conference seven times, tied with Mack Brown for the most by any coach since ESPN began ranking classes. Meyer finished with the Big Ten’s top class in each of his first four years at Ohio State (2012-15).
Meyer has not finished with a recruiting class ranked worse than seventh since he was hired at Ohio State, and his best class with the Buckeyes entering 2016 came in his second season in 2013 (No. 3 overall).
In 2013, Meyer signed three times as many top-150 players and four times as many Under Armour All-Americans than in his first class in 2012.
Jim Harbaugh is looking for a big jump with his second class at Michigan, and so far, so good. As of Wednesday, Michigan’s 35-spot jump in the ESPN recruiting rankings from 2015 to 2016 would be the largest from one season to the next for any team entering the top five, since ESPN began ranking classes.
As of Wednesday, Michigan has ESPN’s No. 5 recruiting class. No Big Ten school other than Ohio State has finished with a top-five class in ESPN rankings.
Entering 2016, Harbaugh’s highest-ranked recruiting class came in his final season at Stanford, in 2010, when the Cardinal finished 18th in the ESPN rankings. Conversely (and bearing in mind the recruiting differences at Florida and Ohio State), Meyer has never had a class ranked outside ESPN’s top 10.
Michigan is in the mix for defensive tackle Rashan Gary (Paramus, New Jersey), the No. 1 player in this year’s ESPN 300. The last No. 1 player in the ESPN 300 to sign with a school outside the Deep South was quarterback Matt Barkley, who signed with USC in 2009. In the years since the ESPN 300 was launched, the No. 1 player has never signed with a Big Ten school.