It’s better to win Signing Day than not. But you still have to play the games. Which is why Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has “re-ranked” college football recruiting classes for the past four seasons, comparing what the experts said about a team’s potential with the school’s actual achievement three years later. 

“Basically, these re-rankings honor the coaches who develop talent instead of the ones who simply collect it,” Staples wrote

But this year, his top team was recruited by one coach, then developed–or at least brought to fruition–by another.

That team, of course, is Texas A&M. The Aggies’ 2010 class under former head coach Mike Sherman was ranked 17th by Rivals; Staples elevated them to #1 on the strength of A&M’s 11-2 season under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin.

As Staples noted, it was a group that included two likely top 5 NFL draft picks (OT Luke Joeckel and DE Damontre Moore) as well as the “support system” for redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

He continued:

Mike Sherman and his staff recruited some talent, but they didn’t coach it very well. The Aggies needed Kevin Sumlin to unlock the potential already on the roster. For those Aggies who suffered through the Sherman era, this should be even more infuriating than the second half of the 2011 Oklahoma State game.

Those wounds have surely healed (especially since, as I’ve already argued, Sherman would still be coaching, and Manziel would not be starting, had the 2011 season gone a little better).

Meanwhile, the University of Texas, possibly the biggest bust on Staples’ list, barely even gets a mention. Rivals had pronounced Mack Brown’s 2010 class as the third-best in the country; Staples drops the Horns to 14th (one of the five “just missed”) in his re-ranking.

This is no surprise, however, and not just because of UT’s record for the past three seasons. As Ryan Jones of the Dallas Morning News wrote in October, the Horns’ 2010 and 2009 groups have experienced an unusually high rate of attrition.

Now we only have to wait three years to see how Sumlins’ highly touted 2013 class actually does.