How recruiting helped Clemson, Georgia and Penn State become championship contenders

Georgia shifting recruiting narrative in SEC (1:33)

Seth Emerson says that if Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs want a prospect, "they're probably going to get him." (1:33)

So how do you go from pretender to contender or from contender to champion in college football? In a word: recruiting.

It's the tried-and-true formula. For all the schemes and strategies, ultimately winning comes down to how good your players are. Take Clemson, Georgia and Penn State as evidence of this.

All have seen their recruiting surge in recent years, though the way each program has recruited is different. It's garnered positive results for all of them: Clemson has been in the College Football Playoff each of the last three years and won a title; Georgia fell just short of winning it all this season; and Penn State has been on the cusp of making it each of the last two seasons.

How have these programs done it?

Clemson: Stockpiling elite playmakers in the passing game

The Tigers have put together productive offensive attacks thanks to their recruiting at key skill positions. Since 2014 (the year they signed Deshaun Watson), the Tigers have signed eight quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends who ranked in the top three nationally at their position. That's more than any other program in the FBS over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This year is no different, with Clemson signing the nation's No. 1 pocket passer QB prospect, Trevor Lawrence (who is No. 2 overall in the ESPN 300).

Of course, it doesn't hurt when you've been as successful as the Tigers have been on the defensive line too, another key part of their recent success.

Georgia: Keeping top in-state prospects home

Georgia is one of the nation's most fertile recruiting lands, and since Kirby Smart took over the program, the Bulldogs have done a good job protecting their home state.

In the last two recruiting classes, the state of Georgia has produced 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bulldogs have signed nine of those, none bigger, perhaps, than this year's No. 1 overall player: dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, who hails from Kennesaw, Georgia.

Penn State: Creating high-end depth in front seven

The Nittany Lions have made it a point to attack defensive line and linebacker. Chances are, if you're really good there, you're going to win a lot of football games.

In the last four years, Penn State has signed 13 prospects in the ESPN 300 who were from one of those two positions. That's the second most in the Big Ten and eighth most in the FBS in that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That's a big shift from previous years, when the program was hindered by recruiting restrictions. From 2011 to '14, the team didn't sign a single front seven recruit who was ranked in the ESPN 300.