Twelve months of twists and turns, hirings and firings, decommitments and recommitments, all led to National Signing Day on Wednesday. After all the faxes had been sent, the top two classes on Rivals.com belonged to ... Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
Jeez. Who could have ever seen that coming?
The nation's only two active coaches with multiple BCS titles are now poised to win some more. Alabama, the sport's two-time reigning champ, notched its remarkable fifth No. 1 national recruiting class in the past six years. Ohio State, a perfect 12-0 in 2012, will be even more talented in 2013.
Saban, the former or current coach of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, added four more prized running backs who combined for 9,205 rushing yards as high school seniors. Meyer, the master of the 11th-hour flip, pulled four-star running back Dontre Wilson out of Oregon's clutches and five-star defensive back Vonn Bell from Rossvile, Ga., away from the SEC.
Save for Meyer's change of locale, Signing Day 2013 could just as easily have been Signing Day 2008.
"A kid wants to go where he can compete for national championships," said Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell. "When you go down South, people believe their best chance at winning the national championship is at Alabama. People that believe you can do it in the North think Ohio State has the best chance. I agree with them."
As it's often been written,
The same sentiment can be echoed about of a lot of coaches who welcomed acclaimed classes on Wednesday. Their signees' fortunes will ultimately be determined not by star ratings and 40 times, but by necessary coaching and development. Plenty of coaches can close in the living room, and plenty of others are masters of the film room. Few, however, excel in both realms. We know Saban and Meyer possess that elite combination. We'll find out in the coming years which of this cycle's other top recruiters will parlay that success to the field.
Take the SEC, for example. The fabled conference will put out another glowing press release noting 11 of its 14 teams finished among Rivals' Top 25 classes. (And two others, Arkansas and Kentucky, barely missed.) Unfortunately, that also means at least one coach with top talent will find himself with a 5-7 team in a couple of years. The league hired four new coaches this offseason -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones -- and all showed promise with their first recruiting classes. But which will do the best job once the actual season rolls around?
The same microscope will be applied to several established coaches. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly has put together quite a respectable résumé at this point, highlighted by last year's undefeated regular season and BCS championship berth. But the Alabama debacle proved that a talent gap still remains. With a top-five class on Wednesday -- his second top-10 haul in three years -- Irish fans will reasonably expect a better showing a year or two from now.
Florida's Will Muschamp landed his second straight top-three class on Wednesday. He has put himself in position to contend for national championships. But the jury's still out in Gainesville after a 7-6 debut and a deceiving 11-2 mark last year that ended with a disastrous Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville. Is Muschamp the next Saban or Meyer? He certainly has players who are capable of beating theirs.
Finally, there's Meyer's newest adversary, Michigan's Brady Hoke, who had another banner Signing Day in Ann Arbor. So far, he's kept fairly even recruiting pace with Meyer. (Ohio State finished No. 4 last year, Michigan No. 7; the Buckeyes finished No. 2 this year, the Wolverines No. 5.) If Hoke is as good of a coach as he is a recruiter, that rivalry should remain closely contested for the foreseeable future.
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, never lacking for one-liners, delivered an apt point at his Signing Day press conference on Wednesday. Recruiting classes "don't always pan out," he said. "Of course, they always seem to pan out at Alabama."
Indeed, Saban has put a permanent dagger in the heart of cynics who claim recruiting rankings don't matter. He recruits No. 1 classes and produces No. 1 teams. His program has been the sport's gold standard for the past five years. But lest we forget, before Alabama came Florida, where Meyer racked up top-ranked classes and crystal footballs, in both 2006 and '08.
Their clash of wits in back-to-back SEC title games (2008 and '09) may soon reprise itself in a national championship. That is, unless one of the many budding stars from the 2013 recruiting season emerges as the next complete coaching package.
Signing Day Superlatives
Freeze called this class a "perfect storm" due to the staff's various connections to key signees (like the fact Nkemdiche's brother, Denzel, already plays for the Rebels). But others consider it highly suspicious. Whatever the case, Freeze's next challenge will be an encore. While Ole Miss' spectacular 2013 crop generates tremendous buzz in Oxford, it's going to take at least a few more years of top-20 classes for the Rebels to realistically compete with the SEC's elite.
If it's a one-year aberration, OK. If it marks a longer-term shift following conference realignment, the league may come to regret that new annual Sugar Bowl date with the SEC.
You'd think the Dawgs' stock would be higher, not lower, coming off consecutive SEC Championship Game appearances.
A couple of guys like Browne or defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow may well become All-Americas. But it takes a lot more bodies to compile an elite team.
In all seriousness, the