Alabama got the nation’s top cornerback Wednesday, but Georgia got everybody else.
Or so it seemed on National Signing Day, an event that usually is painted in crimson and white.
This year, in 247sports’ composite rankings, Nick Saban’s new recruiting class fell to seventh — gasp! Georgia was a runaway choice for the top spot, which Alabama had occupied in nine of the previous 10 years. Only Southern California in 2010 kept Saban from going 10 for 10.
Alabama didn’t get the top recruit in the state, losing Justyn Ross to Clemson. Heck, Stanford (two) got more of the state’s top 10 prospects than the Crimson Tide (one).
Alabama didn’t sign a quarterback. Even the best quarterback left on the board going into Wednesday, James Foster of Montgomery’s Sidney Lanier, chose Texas A&M.
And the Aggies not only landed defensive lineman Bobby Brown, who had been an Alabama commit, but they also flipped a linebacker who had committed to the Tide, Vernon Jackson. Georgia nabbed another, Quay Walker, rated as the second best outside linebacker nationally.
So, is this the beginning of the end? Has Saban’s run at Alabama jumped the shark? Will Crimson Tide fans look back at that national championship win over Georgia and say that it was never that good ever again under Saban?
Did Saban have an idea that might be the case after that win? Is that why he seemed much more joyful than he’s been in past national title wins?
It’s hard not to wonder Wednesday isn’t the start of a trend. Saban turned 66 this past season, and why wouldn’t opposing teams whisper to recruits that he’s lost a step?
Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant dealt with that his final years as the Tide’s head coach, and while he still pulled in some star-level players, it probably hurt the depth of his last few recruiting classes. That might’ve played a part in Alabama’s post-Bryant won-loss records.
Guys such as Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher (two former Saban assistants) are seen as younger and more energetic versions of Saban himself.
And … and … and … oh, heck, losing a few recruits and dropping six spots in some recruiting rankings isn’t the apocalypse or the sign that Alabama time on college football’s throne is ending. The Crimson Tide has survived more than one apparent apocalypse before. (What exactly is the plural of apocalypse, by the way? I’m pretty sure I’m not the first one to ask that question.)
Besides, Alabama’s strength under Saban hasn’t necessarily been recruiting all those guys with all those stars next to their names. Instead, it’s molding them into really good college football players. And the drop in ranking this year might have less to do with any new shortcoming of his and more to do with Saban losing both his offensive and defensive coordinator.
As for the Class of 2018, there’s only one position in which Alabama had to go big or suffer consequences in the future — defensive back. The Crimson Tide landed five, including the nation’s No. 1 high school cornerback, Patrick Surtain Jr., and the nation’s No. 1 junior college cornerback, Saivion Smith.
Also, Alabama got a punter and a kicker, and the Tide needed both. Especially the punter.
The Tide has built so much depth with these great recruiting classes, as it proved this year. Injuries decimated the defense, but the Tide still finished first nationally in total defense and points allowed. What happened Wednesday isn’t changing that.
As for the age thing, does Saban really look like he’s getting too old to coach? He’s very aware of his looks and how they affect recruiting. He’s had surgery to correct his vision so he doesn’t need glasses. He dyes his hair, and even with all those snack cakes he eats for breakfast, his waistline isn’t suffering. When Bryant was 66, he appeared old, as if he had lived every day twice, and opposing coaches simply told recruits to take a look.
Saban’s contract runs through the 2024 season, when he turns 73, and he doesn’t look like he can’t make it that long. (Kansas State’s Bill Snyder is still on the job at 78.)
When asked on National Signing Day to judge his recruiting classes, Saban likes to say that you can’t look at a puppy dog’s feet and know how big he’s going to get. Maybe not, but considering what he’s accomplished so far, he deserves the benefit of the doubt that the nation’s No. 7 recruiting class will grow into big dogs, too.