The nation’s No. 1 running back prospect announced a verbal commitment on Tuesday. He did not commit to the University of Alabama — which is not news in one way, but is news in another.
The prospect in question, Zamir White of Laurinburg, N.C., chose Georgia, which had been considered the leader for some time by those in the recruiting industry. Alabama had neither the advantage of geography nor necessity. The Crimson Tide depth chart at running back is more crowded than Calcutta rush hour. At least three of White’s other choices — Georgia, Clemson and North Carolina — were closer to home. Kirby Smart had prioritized White as soon as he took the Georgia job at the end of the 2015 season.
The Bulldogs have been a national draw for running backs since the post-Herschel Walker days — Herschel was local, but became a national icon. They’ve pulled Lars Tate from Indiana, Knowshon Moreno from New Jersey, Terrell Davis from San Diego (via Long Beach State) and more. They’ve also gone to a new recruiting class nickname after Dream Team II joined Dream Team I on the highway of broken dreams. This year’s Bulldog class, per Kirby Smart’s Twitter, is “RareBreed18.” (Alabama under Saban does not “name” recruiting classes, identifying them instead by year and national/SEC championships won.)
Again, White’s decision wasn’t surprising. On the other hand, there is always quick analysis when Alabama doesn’t land any prospect, just as there is when the Crimson Tide doesn’t win a game. Millions of media microscopes focus immediately, seeking the slightest crack that can be decreed as threatening the foundation that Saban has built.
Alabama doesn’t always get the nation’s No. 1 running back, but it is usually involved heavily. It couldn’t pry Leonard Fournette out of Louisiana — no one could have. Najee Harris, the No. 1 prospect out of California, did choose the Crimson Tide. (Cam Akers, the No. 1 prospect according to some services, had committed to Alabama at one point before opting for Florida State.) Damien Harris and B.J. Emmons were elite five-star prospect. Bo Scarbrough and Brian Robinson are both from west Alabama but were national level prospects as well. (Josh Jacobs, the elusive freshman, was the overlooked exception, a credit to tireless evaluation.)
Alabama will land a highly-rated running back by February, certainly. The narrative will continue, though. A combination of class size and other factors will almost certainly combine to end Saban’s run of No. 1 recruiting classes in February 2018. Ohio State is building an insurmountable mathematical advantage in that department already, to no one’s surprise. The state of Alabama isn’t likely to produce last-minute class-boosting five-stars like Mack Wilson and Ben Davis in 2016, or LaBryan Ray and Henry Ruggs III last February. The microscopes will be out in force and doom will be predicted if Alabama “only” ends up with a Top 5 class.
Such is the thin air that Alabama breathes at the top of the mountain. Getting to the top isn’t easy. Staying there is harder, especially when well-equipped contenders are constantly trying to knock you off. Yield a foot off the summit, though, and suddenly “expectations” are not being met, to the howls of outside critics and an insatiable chunk of your own fan base.
No, it isn’t news when any given recruit chooses another school, even a talented one. But yes, it is news when Alabama isn’t the choice — because people are conditioned to think that way.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.