The headline, “Alabama signs No. 1 recruiting class in America” is about as unoriginal as it gets.
After all, we saw that headline on the first Wednesday of February from 2011-17. Top-ranked classes to Nick Saban were about as routine as his two morning Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies.
That, of course, changed this past February (not the Little Debbies, I don’t think). Alabama finished with the No. 6 class, which was Saban’s lowest-ranked group since his first year in 2007. Instead, the headline read, “Georgia signs most 5-stars of 247sports rankings era.”
Saban’s streak was bound to end. Signing the No. 1 class every year is an insane yet unsustainable accomplishment in the 21st century, even for the G.O.A.T. Sooner or later, Alabama was going to have a year with limited available scholarships like it had in 2018 (the Tide averaged 26 signees during the streak with at least 24 in every class until only signing 21 in 2018). Combine that with the significant staff turnover the Tide had in a 1-year stretch and it seemed pretty likely that No. 1 wasn’t going to be in the cards.
But 4 months after Alabama fans begrudgingly read the headline about Georgia’s record-setting class, there’s another headline that they probably saw a variation of recently.
“Back on top: Alabama sitting pretty with top-ranked 2019 class.”
Who knows if the Tide will hold on to No. 1 by the time February rolls around. As we know, a lot can happen with Alabama’s 14 commitments for 2019. Certainly that boring headline would be appreciated by Alabama fans a bit more after missing out in 2018.
I’m curious just how boring that headline will be moving forward.
If you’re under the impression that winning 5 of 9 national championships wasn’t the product of signing the nation’s top recruiting class for 7 straight years, I’m sorry. Maybe this isn’t the column for you.
For those of you who recognize the significance of Saban’s recruiting dominance, you came to the right place. But I will say, I don’t think we’ll see a run of top-ranked classes like again from Saban.
The competition factor is a big part of it. If Georgia really is Alabama East, that obviously means 42-year-old Kirby Smart has plenty more No. 1 classes in him. That’s a different ballgame than battling Urban Meyer, who has recruiting ties in the Southeast, but is still based in a different region of the country. Smart is a new kind of challenge for Saban on and off the field.
Dabo Swinney has been Alabama’s biggest on-field threat, though Clemson still hasn’t signed a top-5 class even with 3 consecutive Playoff appearances.
Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman might actually be bigger threats to Saban’s top-ranked classes than Swinney. Herman just signed a No. 3 class in his first full recruiting cycle at Texas and Fisher has the No. 2 class in his first full cycle in College Station. That’s before either even had a nationally relevant season in their football-crazed state.
There are definitely a handful of non-Alabama candidates — including Meyer — who could and should sign a No. 1 class at least once. Why is that different now than a few years ago? Look at all of the big-time programs who hired new coaches during Saban’s 7-year streak:
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Texas A&M
Shoot, technically the only non-Alabama team in the SEC that didn’t change coaches at least once from February 2011-February 2017 was Mississippi State. Obviously Saban was a big part of that. I can’t see into the future, but I’d be surprised if that stat repeats itself both within the SEC and nationally in terms of coaching turnover.
There’s another element to this that I think we saw play out in 2018. That is, Saban is playing more and more true freshmen. It’s hard to argue with that logic considering that modern approach helped him get his latest and most improbable ring yet.
That matters in recruiting. When true freshmen like Tua Tagovailoa and Najee Harris are dominating the workload in the final minutes of the national championship, it tells recruits who play those positions that for at least 2 years, the chances of them cracking the starting lineup aren’t great.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that Alabama failed to sign a quarterback or even a blue-chip running back recruit like it usually does. That new dynamic — in this age of increased flipping verbal commitments and transferring because of a lack of playing time — is going to be an obstacle in recruiting.
And let’s be honest. Whether it’s fair or not, we know the other obvious thing that’s going to work against Saban as he tries to start a new streak of No. 1 classes — the age factor.
No, I’m not saying that Saban is retiring anytime soon (it seems like Chris Low reports weekly that Saban plans to coach well into his 70s). But you know who else is probably saying that Saban’s coaching days are numbered? Every one of his competitors. And if you don’t think they would do that, perhaps you missed when Swinney convinced a 5-star recruit from Ohio that 53-year-old Meyer was “on the back end of his career,” which actually played a part in the recruit signing with Clemson.
Can you imagine what Swinney will tell recruits when Saban turns 70 in a few years?
Saban isn’t getting any younger and signing No. 1 classes isn’t getting any easier. College football is a different ballgame than it was when the streak began. We’ve even changed how we crown our national champion, not that it changed Saban’s level of success.
When we look back on Saban’s legacy at Alabama, we’ll be even more impressed with his 7-year streak of top-ranked recruiting classes. It’ll be a bar that was set too high for anyone to reach.