Clemson's receivers have shirts they wear to workouts with "WRU" emblazoned across the front, a little nod to the pedigree of their position. At present, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross make for worthy representatives of what they happily claim is Wide Receiver U, the best incubator for pass-catching talent in America. As evidence, they can point to Sammy Watkins, Nuk Hopkins and Mike Williams -- and on and on down the line of greats who built their reputations on the field at Death Valley, then went on to success in the NFL.
Of course, there are a few other schools that might take exception to that WRU moniker. From Julio Jones to Jerry Jeudy, Alabama has been churning out All-Americans like clockwork. And how about Oklahoma State's run from Dez Bryant to Tylan Wallace?
Which school is the real WRU -- or, for that matter, QBU or DBU or O-line U? It's a debate that deserves real answers, so we did the math.
ESPN Stats & Information dug deep into the numbers, culled details on all-conference performers, All-Americans, NFL draft picks and stars from the pro ranks, and came up with a formula to determine the official rankings for the schools best at producing quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, running backs, linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.
We limited the debate to the BCS and CFP era, including all players who appeared in games from 1998 through last season.
We weighted an All-America nod higher than an All-SEC selection. We had to come up with a metric to determine a player's performance at the next level that would function for all position groups, so we used average Approximate Value over the first four seasons (or fewer, if applicable) in the NFL. We needed a way to account for Notre Dame's lack of conference affiliation, and we used Brian Burke's NFL draft pick values chart to figure out how much more to value a first-round draft pick than a seventh-rounder.
Jump to a position:
It's only fitting that the most high-profile position is arguably the most interesting in our rankings.
USC narrowly edged Oklahoma as the official QBU, but it's far from clear-cut. USC has reloaded at the position unlike any other program, going from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart to John David Booty to Mark Sanchez to Matt Barkley to Cody Kessler to Sam Darnold -- all of whom were drafted and four of whom were taken in the first round.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, boasts an incomparable run of truly elite guys, with four Heisman winners (Jason White, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) in the past 15 years, and three of those guys went first overall in the NFL draft. It's a slight edge for USC in consistency, but advantage Sooners when it comes to producing the most elite talent.
Perhaps as interesting as the teams at the top, however, is the team at No. 33. That'd be Alabama, checking in just after Syracuse and only a few spots ahead of Delaware. No team has dominated on the field during the BCS/College Football Playoff era quite like the Crimson Tide, but they've done it without elite QBs ... until last season, anyway.
Meanwhile, though the top 10 is full of big names, the team at No. 11 is worth a mention, too: Fresno State. Recruiting the Carr brothers worked out pretty well for the Bulldogs. If we run the numbers for QBU again in 10 years, however, Clemson might be the team at the top. The Tigers currently rank 16th, but with Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence and soon hotshot recruit D.J. Uiagalelei, the current run of superstar quarterbacks for Dabo Swinney is tough to match. -- David Hale
Notable players: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold
Notable players: Jason White, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray
Notable players: Jesse Palmer, Rex Grossman, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow
Running Back U
How deep, talented and productive has Alabama been at the running back position the past two decades?
Perhaps this is the best way to answer that question: Eddie Lacy was Alabama's starter for only one season (2012), but he piled up more than 2,400 rushing yards in his career. He's one of seven Alabama running backs to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, going back to 2000, and that includes a couple of Heisman Trophy winners in Derrick Henry in 2015 and Mark Ingram in 2009. While a handful of schools might stake claim to the Running Back U moniker since the start of the BCS in 1998, Alabama sits atop the throne.
Alabama is one of four SEC schools to make the top 10, and it edged Wisconsin, which has churned out the likes of Melvin Gordon, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Michael Bennett and James White in recent years. And talk about backfields loaded with talent. Miami's 2001 stable featured Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis, and Arkansas in 2006 had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis in the same backfield. The 2004 Auburn backfield was equally stout, with Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who went second overall and fifth overall, respectively, in the 2005 NFL draft.
One team surprisingly absent from the Running Back U top 10 is Georgia, which has had its share of talented runners over the years. In the past four years, the likes of Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley have rumbled their way through Athens, but a lack of star power in the first half of the BCS era held the Dawgs back. -- Chris Low
Notable players: Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, Shaun Alexander
Notable players: Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball
Notable players: Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James
Notable players: Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles
Notable players: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis
Notable players: Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Mason
Wide Receiver U
How did the Trojans get atop this list? Well, USC has eight seasons of all-conference wide receivers, which tied for fifth among Power 5 schools, and the Trojans have five All-American seasons from receivers, which tied for first nationally with Oklahoma State.
Those five All-Americans were huge factors in this ranking, and so were the 17 receivers drafted since the 1998 season, second only to Ohio State's 21. USC also had three receivers taken in the first round in that span.
In the past 15 seasons, USC has produced three 3,000-yard receivers: Marqise Lee, Dwayne Jarrett and JuJu Smith-Schuster. That's tied for first on this list with Oklahoma: Ryan Broyles, Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders.
The biggest surprise has to be LSU on this list. LSU has just five all-conference seasons from receivers and one All-American wideout: Josh Reed in 2001. Anemic offense and the lack of a 3,000-yard receiver over the past 15 years make you wonder how of all the Tigers in college football, these were the ones to make it in the top five.
Well, since 1998, 17 LSU receivers have been drafted. Do the names Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry mean anything to you? No one ever said LSU doesn't recruit studs, even if that potential wasn't always maximized in school. -- Edward Aschoff
Notable players: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Williams, Marqise Lee, Dwayne Jarrett
3. Florida State
Notable players: Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, Peter Warrick
Notable players: Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Clayton, Jarvis Landry
Notable players: Marquise Brown, Ryan Broyles, Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard
Notable players: Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Antonio Callaway
Tight End U
Miami can officially say it is Tight End U. As if the Hurricanes haven't already been making that proclamation, it's now undeniable. Miami has so many big names and impact players at the position, it's hard to deny the program the top spot.
Tight ends have evolved, and there is more value in the position now than ever. Names such as Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen helped make that transition.
It isn't surprising to see Iowa so high on this list either, as the Hawkeyes regularly produce top tight ends year in and year out. In fact, Iowa became the first school to have two tight ends chosen in the first 20 picks of the NFL draft in April, when T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were both selected in the first round. Iowa is a team that could take over the No. 1 spot if Miami isn't careful. -- Tom VanHaaren
Notable players: Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman, Michael Egnew, Dwayne Blakley
Notable players: Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks, Troy Fumagalli
8. Arizona State
Notable players: Todd Heap, Brian Jennings, Zach Miller
Notable players: Heath Miller, Bill Baber, Chris Luzar, Patrick Estes, Tom Santi
Notable players: Gabe Reid, Daniel Coats, Dennis Pitta, Jonny Harline
Offensive Line U
It's no surprise that Alabama finds itself at the top of this list with Wisconsin a close second. In this research, Alabama had the most seasons with an all-conference player and has had an incredible amount of players drafted since 1998.
The Crimson Tide and Badgers led most of the categories analyzed, and though offensive linemen can be difficult to evaluate individually, when you look at the draft results for both teams, it's easy to see why these two top the list. It will be difficult to dethrone these two programs, but Oklahoma and Notre Dame have been making a big push as of late. The Irish in particular have had a run of top offensive linemen taken in the NFL draft and seemingly have more on the way. -- Tom VanHaaren
Defensive Back U
With just a few glances at Twitter during the season, you'll see that Florida and LSU players -- current and former -- and their official football team accounts are constantly bombarding the internet with claims of "DBU."
It actually might be college football's best rivalry over the past few years.
Unfortunately for both schools, they have to take a back seat to the real DBU: Ohio State.
Since 1998, Ohio State has 26 all-conference seasons by defensive backs (tops in the country) and six All-American seasons, which ranks second behind that of Alabama and LSU (eight). Since the 1998 season, 30 Buckeyes defensive backs have been drafted, among them 12 first-round picks, including three -- Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley -- in 2017.
After the Buckeyes, it was a run of SEC teams, with LSU, Alabama and Florida taking spots two through four. -- Edward Aschoff
Notable players: Adoree' Jackson, Taylor Mays, Troy Polamalu
Notable players: Roy Williams, Andre Woolfolk, Zack Sanchez
Defensive Line U
Ask any quarterback in the SEC, and you won't exactly be surprised by our DLU winner. Of course it's Alabama.
The Crimson Tide's defensive front has been tormenting opposing offenses for the better part of the past decade, and the litany of D-line superstars to emerge from Tuscaloosa -- from Jarret Johnson to Quinnen Williams -- includes 12 All-SEC seasons and five All-Americans. Of course, the Dabo Swinney era at Clemson gives the Tide a run for its money. Clemson has had 17 All-ACC seasons from D-linemen, with last season's group -- Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence -- all drafted, including three in the first round. As much as the playoff battles between the Tide and Tigers have been a staple of college football the past few years, so too might be this battle for the official title of D-line U.
Perhaps the most surprising name in our rankings is North Carolina, which checks in at No. 12. It hasn't been a great run of late for the Tar Heels, but UNC dominated the early part of this era with names such as Ebenezer Ekuban, Ryan Sims, Julius Peppers, Kentwan Balmer, Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Sylvester Williams, all first-round picks.
Looking for the up-and-coming contender for DLU? Try Ohio State, which has had 11 defensive linemen drafted in the past decade and is likely to add another first-rounder in Chase Young next year. -- David Hale
Notable players: Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling, Ricky Sapp, Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, Andre Branch, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell
5. Florida State
Notable players: Corey Simon, Jamal Reynolds, Darnell Dockett, Travis Johnson, Brodrick Bunkley, Everette Brown, Tank Carradine, Timmy Jernigan, Bjoern Werner, Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr., DeMarcus Walker, Brian Burns
Notable players: Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton, Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, Tim Crowder, Brian Orakpo, Lamar Houston, Malcolm Brown
It's hard not to be mesmerized by all of the talent Georgia has produced at running back dating to Herschel Walker, arguably the greatest player to ever play in the SEC.
But when you glance across at the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs have been equally blessed at linebacker. In the past five years, they have produced seven NFL draft picks at either inside or outside linebacker. Go back seven years, and that number jumps to 10 linebackers taken in the NFL draft, including four first-rounders.
Historically, the Linebacker U tag might have been reserved for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions are still up there. But the Dawgs claim the top spot since the start of the BCS in 1998, thanks to their array of run-stuffing inside linebackers, pass-rushing specialists on the outside and do-it-all guys cut from the mold of Boss Bailey, who was the heartbeat of the 2002 Georgia defense that ranked fourth nationally in scoring.
Georgia finished just ahead of SEC counterpart Alabama, which has also produced great linebackers over the years. Good luck finding a more versatile linebacker in recent years than C.J. Mosley, one of nine Alabama linebackers to be picked in the NFL draft in the past six years. Speaking of Penn State, it's hard to find a more decorated trio at one school in the past 20 years than LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, though the folks at Ohio State would be quick to counter with such legendary names as Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk. -- Chris Low
Notable players: C.J. Mosley, Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower
3. Ohio State
Notable players: A.J. Hawk, Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis
Notable players: Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Chris Claiborne
5. Penn State
Notable players: LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor
Notable players: Curtis Lofton, Teddy Lehman, Rocky Calmus
8. Florida State
Notable players: Ernie Sims, Lawrence Timmons, Tommy Polley
Notable players: Devin Bush, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote
Notable players: Brandon Spikes, Jarrad Davis, Jevon Kearse
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.