National Signing Day started with a backward flip for the University of Alabama’s football recruiting efforts. By the end of the day, the Crimson Tide had slipped, but not fallen.
The Crimson Tide failed to maintain a No. 1 ranking after eight consecutive years of holding the top spot in the eyes of at least one major recruiting service, but still landed a top-10 class.
There were a couple of bangs as Wednesday progressed, but the Crimson Tide ended up with more misses: UA was expected to sign up to eight players, but signed only five. Alabama’s class, which was ranked fifth after the December early signing period, fell out of the top five in rankings by all major services.
ESPN ranked Alabama’s class sixth nationally, while 247Sports and Rivals ranked it seventh. That reflects an increasing challenge to Alabama’s dominance on the field and in the living rooms of recruits.
“What’s the most competitive thing we do around here? Play a game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after UA’s haul was complete. “The next most competitive thing we do is recruiting.”
That landscape has become even more competitive with some of Saban’s former top assistants – most notably Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt and, by way of Florida State, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher – now holding head coaching spots in the Southeastern Conference.
Georgia, which lost to Alabama in overtime in the College Football Playoff Championship, had a huge day to push to the unanimous No. 1 spot in the recruiting rankings.
For a program accustomed to signing pretty much whichever prospects it has wanted, it was an up-and-down day for UA.
Before 8 a.m., Alabama got a major shock when Bobby Brown, a four-star defensive tackle from Arlington, Texas, who had previously committed to UA, flipped and signed with Texas A&M. A little more than half an hour later, however, three-star cornerback Eddie Smith of Slidell, La., chose Alabama over Tennessee.
The Crimson Tide’s best news of the day came in the 9 o’clock hour, when the nation’s top-rated cornerback, Patrick Surtain Jr. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., picked Alabama over LSU, which had been favored to get his signature on scholarship papers.
“Why Alabama? Because of the culture there,” Surtain said on an ESPN-televised interview. “They win championships. Over here (at American Heritage School), we’re used to winning, so I want to be a part of that winning culture.”
At that point, things were looking up for Alabama’s class. But Surtain’s high school teammate, fellow five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell, went with Georgia. Nicholas Petit-Frere, a five-star offensive tackle from Tampa, Fla., chose Ohio State.
Alabama got Jaylen Moody, a three-star linebacker from South Carolina, but Georgia flipped Quay Walker – a UA linebacker commitment from the Peach State – to add to its growing class of coveted prospects.
The Crimson Tide lost out on other top recruits: wideout Justyn Ross, the state’s No. 1 prospect, chose Clemson over Alabama and Auburn; Jacob Copeland, a four-star wideout from Pensacola, Fla., and Malik Langham, a four-star defensive end from Huntsville, both signed with the Florida Gators.
Alabama had one last chance to add a highly-ranked recruit and got him: Jaylen Waddle, a four-star speedster from Bellaire, Texas, announced his intention to sign with the Crimson Tide around 3:30 p.m.
Landing a No. 1 class this year would have been a stretch, with Alabama not having enough scholarships free to sign a full class of 25 (or more, as in some past years). UA also had a lot of changeover on its coaching staff, with both offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Pruitt leaving, among others. Another factor may have been the Crimson Tide’s run to the national title, which kept the coaching staff busy during the period leading up to the December signing window.
“I think every year is going to be different with the recruiting cycle,” Saban said. “I think this year was different because of the coaching changes. Those changes were much more aggressive in the late signing period.”
A top-10 class, of course, is nothing to take for granted. Alabama’s recruiting success under Saban had become so overwhelming that anything less than No. 1 might be a disappointment to some fans. This was the first recruiting cycle with two signing days – the early one in December and the traditional one on the first Wednesday of February – and history suggests that Saban will adjust.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.