Nick Saban was sitting on a gold mine.
His signing class of 2008 sat atop both Scout.com and Rivals.com rankings of recruiting classes. The group was stockpiled with big-name prospects such as Julio Jones and Mark Barron.
But since the class also included a few high-profile misses, it’s an interesting study in how recruiting services can hit some spot-on and miss completely on others.
Rivals assigned just three stars to both Marcell Dareus and junior-college transfer Terrence Cody. Both were stars as Cody went in the second round of last year’s NFL draft and Dareus is expected to go in the first round this year.
Then there is the case of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram — a three-star player coming out of Flint, Mich., according to Scout.
“Mark Ingram was a miss,” said a chuckling Scott Kennedy, the director of scouting at Scout. “He was just a miss. He was misevaluated. He was under-ranked, plain and simple.”
Circumstances and timing helped make the 2008 class so successful.
The group was the first in which Saban had a full season to recruit, and with a gap in talent facing the program that fall, a large chunk of the freshmen were forced into service immediately. In all, 16 true freshmen saw action as the Tide rose from the unranked to the No. 1team in the nation after going 12-0 in the regular season.
Julio Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower were first-day starters, while Dareus, Ingram, Marquis Maze and Courtney Upshaw were among those seeing meaningful playing time.
“There was a lot of opportunity for these guys early in their career,” Saban said Jan. 7 at a news conference announcing Ingram, Jones and Dareus were entering the NFL draft. “These guys took advantage of it and made a significant impact on the program immediately. Based on accomplishment, this class probably had as much to do with what’s been accomplished here in the last three years as any other class. Based on their performance and their results, it’s got to be as good as any.”
Not every big name from that class, however, is climbing draft projection boards.
Both services rated offensive lineman Tyler Love a five-star recruit.
In two seasons, he’s appeared in 11 games in a reserve role after receiving a medical redshirt following the 2008 season.
B.J. Scott, a five-star guy on Rivals, transferred to South Alabama earlier this month after three disappointing seasons with the Tide in which he moved from receiver to defensive back without cracking the starting lineup.
Star Jackson got four stars on both sites and was ranked 11th-best among quarterbacks before losing the starting competition to former three-star recruit Greg McElroy before the 2009 season. Jackson appeared in five games as a backup and finished the year third on the depth chart before transferring to first-year program Georgia State following spring practice.
For those on the other side of the coin, the past three years were a dream ride. They went 26-5, won a conference and national title while carving out their place in Alabama football history.
“My ‘08 class is ridiculous,” Dareus said the day he declared for the draft. “We love each other like brothers. For me to see us go out like this, it’s overwhelming. We came in, made an impact — did great things.”