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February 27, 2012
Just two months after Tennessee hired him, Kiffin signed a top-10 recruiting class that featured the nation's top overall prospect in Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown. Even though Tennessee was coming off its first losing season in nearly two decades, the Volunteers had plenty of reason to feel good about their future.
Three years later, Kiffin is long gone. So are all seven Rivals250 prospects from that 2009 Tennessee recruiting class.
This isn't the only heralded recruiting class that has failed to live up to expectations. In fact, we've put together a list of 13 classes that were ranked in the top 10 by Rivals.com but underachieved because of off-field issues.
Consider them the "Unlucky 13."
In putting together this list, we weren't focusing on players who stayed at the same school for the duration of their careers but never quite lived up to their recruiting ranking. Instead, we wanted to find the classes that were hurt the most by early defections unrelated to star players forgoing their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.
These classes were hindered because of players who transferred, got kicked off the team, failed to qualify or suffered career-altering or career-ending injuries. We weren't as interested in graduate transfers who played their final season at another school only after earning their degrees. We focused more on Brown and other transfers who switched schools much earlier in their careers.
This list helps explain why two of the biggest national powers from the 1990s - Florida State and Tennessee - have struggled for much of the last decade despite often signing highly ranked recruiting classes. Those two schools account for five of the top six classes on our list
Before we reveal the list, we'll mention one class that's notable by its absence.
USC topped the Rivals recruiting rankings in 2010 with a class that included four five-star prospects. Three of those five-star recruits - wide receiver Markeith Ambles, running back Dillon Baxter and wide receiver Kyle Prater - already have left the program. That class also was put together by Kiffin.
Even though that group has included plenty of high-profile early exits, we didn't feel it should make our list because the rest of the class has performed so well. The one five-star prospect who stayed at USC is All-America wide receiver Robert Woods. And all the four-star recruits from that class remain at USC, with many of them having developed into key contributors.
1. Tennessee 2009
2. Florida State 2004
3. Florida State 2006
4. Miami 2004
5. Florida State 2005
6. Tennessee 2007
7. Michigan 2005
8. Notre Dame 2006
9. Ohio State 2009
10. USC 2009
11. USC 2008
12. Florida 2008
13. Texas A&M 2003