The Alabama Crimson Tide are nearly perfect – to the degree that non-robots can be. That’s why SEC fans revel in their slip-ups. Each one of Saban’s 20 losses thus far has been a moment of intrigue, a small defect in an otherwise methodical winning machine.

The latest such imperfection might be their 2018 recruiting class. Yes, for 13 of the 14 SEC schools, a No. 7 recruiting class according to 247Sports would be cause for celebration – but not for Alabama. The fans in Tuscaloosa have become disciples in the dao of Ricky Bobby: If you’re not first, you’re last, and no one has been better at winning the postseason and the offseason than Alabama.

Alabama's class was relatively low at No. 7. But everybody else in the SEC West was lower than that.

In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 2010 to find an Alabama class that didn’t finish first in the nation, let alone the SEC. Yet here we are, in the honeymoon of a fifth Alabama national title under Saban and the Tide sit at seventh in this past cycle.

Many factors could have contributed to this – be it the two former Alabama assistants in Jeremy Pruitt and Kirby Smart who have recently jumped ship to lead their own SEC programs, the possibility of Alabama fatigue, or Saban’s advanced age and the questions as to who will be coaching these kids when the 66-year old mastermind finally calls it quits. Couple all that with a smaller class and some bad breaks on National Signing Day, and it creates that little bit of imperfection.

For the rest of the SEC West, this could signal an opportunity, though most of the division is ill-equipped to capitalize on it. Many of the league’s ace recruiters have been run out of town and replaced with unproven newcomers, due in large part to their inability to overcome Alabama.

[table “” not found /]

LSU has hit rocky times on the field and recruiting trail, and the once-heated battles for both have slanted heavily in Bama’s favor of late. Under Les Miles, LSU repeatedly won over players like Leonard Fournette and Arden Key, but if cases like Patrick Surtain and Saivion Smith are to be the norm, things don’t look too bright for Ed Orgeron.

The next battleground will surely be Ishmael Sopsher, the No. 1-rated player in 2019. LSU should have the home field advantage on Sopsher, who is a DT from Amite, La. If Orgeron can’t close on another player who experts expect to be a Tiger, Orgeron’s days could be numbered in Baton Rouge.

The most believable case for Alabama’s challenger in the West looks to reside either in College Station or across the state in Auburn.

Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M is a proven winner, and though he has lost a bit of his luster since the Jameis Winston days, he’s one of the few coaches in America who has shown he can go toe to toe with Saban on the field and in prospects’ living rooms. Winston, remember, played his high school ball about an hour from Tuscaloosa.

With only one of his eight FSU classes outside the top 10 since 2010 and six in the top six, Fisher has proven that he can land talent. A&M hope he can continue to do so in College Station. His 39-3 record from 2012-14 shows that he can also lead those players to victory. Fisher stands to gain the most from the back end of Saban’s career, and though he was handicapped by the Early Signing Period in the 2018 cycle, it’s just a matter of time before he has a chance to build a machine at Texas A&M.

Auburn has always been a worthy rival for Alabama, and as the only active coach in the SEC with a win over Saban, Gus Malzahn proved that he’s here to stay in 2017. Though SEC fans won’t forgive him for losing to Central Florida, all that matters to folks on The Plains is that he was beat Alabama. Yes, Malzahn is riding a one-game winning streak over the Tide, and their 26-14 win in the Iron Bowl was one of the largest defeats in the Saban era.

Malzahn’s offense can be as volatile as a mad science experiment, but when it’s rolling, it’s can be the hardest to stop in America. Auburn has shown it can compete with Alabama despite the talent gap, so any decrease in that gap could spell trouble for Alabama.

As for the rest, it’s more of a “we’ll see.” Even Bobby Petrino wasn’t able to land blue-chip recruiting classes at Arkansas, and Chad Morris’ first class was expectedly average. Landing 5-star recruits without breaking rules will continue to be a hurdle in Mississippi. Any of these new coaches, Morris, Matt Luke or Joe Moorhead, could build a winner, but it’s fair to say that others have a head start.

In short, this might be the tail end of Saban’s dynasty, and there is plenty of negative recruiting that accompanies that, but nobody should take the Tide lightly. With three years of No. 1-ranked classes already on the roster, this relatively weaker class will need to be paired with a few more before Alabama is seen as vulnerable.