Nick Saban, in the midst of preparing his football team for a College Football Playoff semifinal game, was also playing the numbers game Wednesday.

That was natural, since National Signing Day at Alabama under Saban is almost always involves one sort of numbers crunching or another, whether it is maximizing the scholarships available under NCAA rules or whether it is simply determining whether Alabama has a No. 1 class in the SEC or nationally. Saban doesn’t pay attention to rankings but he does pay attention to talent.

This year’s class is No. 1 by all of the services who do such rankings. That could be No. 1 with an asterisk for a few weeks since the February signing date is still out there. However, Saban, now the unquestioned voice of college football programs, proclaimed rightly that in its second year, the “early” signing period has become the signing period and the old February date has become an instant anachronism.

That doesn’t mean Saban isn’t thinking about February, too. Alabama released an official list of 22 signees Wednesday and he immediately cautioned the reporters present not to “do your calculations and scare off everybody we are going to try and sign in February. We still have spots.”

The “22” total also grabbed some attention because, at the time Saban was speaking, it did not include running back Trey Sanders, the highly-recruited IMG Academy standout who committed to Alabama live on ESPN. That commitment came with an accompanying prediction from Sanders himself that he would win the 2019 Heisman Trophy. For some reason — maybe he was checking on airfare to New York next December — his paperwork did not arrive before the end of the business day. But at around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, Alabama posted the official news that Sanders had signed.

If Alabama does have 23 signees heading into the February signing period, chances are the Crimson Tide would tighten its grip on the No. 1 spot rather than lose it. UA has a commitment from Mississippi lineman Byron Young, who is waiting to sign, and is thought to be in good position with five-star defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher. It’s a long six weeks until Sopsher plans to sign and LSU will fight with tooth, nail and boat oar to keep him in-state. But if he ends up at Alabama, you will hear the arguments that this is Saban’s “best class ever” — something that cannot be quantified for at least a couple of years — ring out loudly.

There was one other number that slipped slyly into Saban’s remarks. That was “five.” He was asked about quarterback signees Paul Tyson and Taulia Tagovailoa, both part of the class. Saban gave them ample signing-day praise and then added that having four quarterbacks — Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones being the others — was good.

“We should have at least four quarterbacks on scholarship, he said. “Five is OK, too.”

Would five include Layne Hatcher, added to the roster late last summer? Or could it be someone else currently on the roster?

Saban didn’t expound on the statement. But on a day where the richest got richer, you’d have to wonder if anything could be ruled out.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225