In January 2014, Ricky Town caused a major stir in the recruiting world when he flipped his commitment from Alabama to USC. The flip—which was preceded by former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s move to Michigan—stripped the Crimson Tide of one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects. Town had been committed to the program since the previous summer, and he seemingly possessed the potential to develop into a star in Tuscaloosa.
Five months after the flip, Alabama landed a replacement for Town in Blake Barnett, who decommitted from Notre Dame before choosing the Crimson Tide over Oregon. Barnett appears to be a strong candidate to become the starter for the defending national champions this season, while Town transferred to Arkansas before ever playing a snap for USC, a decision reportedly influenced by the performance of Sam Darnold, a less heralded quarterback in the Trojans’ 2015 class.
So what does the Town saga have to do with Alabama now? Perhaps this sequence of events crossed the minds of some Crimson Tide fans when Houston County (Ga.) High’s Jake Fromm, the No. 5 quarterback in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com, switched his commitment from Alabama to Georgia earlier this month.
Like two years ago, this flip involved one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects withdrawing his pledge to the Crimson Tide and then pledging to another high-profile program. Like two years ago, this flip took place relatively early in the recruiting cycle. Like two years ago, this flip occurred after a coaching change. But before analyzing where Alabama could turn next—if or where it could find a Barnett-type prospect for its class—let’s put this flip in context.
The Bulldogs had held a commitment from Bailey Hockman, a four-star passer from McEachern (Ga.) High, since June. In November, Georgia fired Mark Richt, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer—who played an important role in Hockman’s recruitment—was not retained under Richt’s replacement, Kirby Smart. After Smart was officially named Georgia’s new head coach, Hockman decided to reopen his recruitment.
With Smart in charge, Georgia offered Fromm and tried to persuade him to join the program at the expense of its SEC rival led by the coach (Nick Saban) under whom Smart had worked as defensive coordinator for the past eight years. Fromm reportedly took an unexpected trip to Athens and then announced his commitment to Georgia on Twitter the next week. “I am ready to start my journey as a Dawg and help them in the recruiting process,” Fromm wrote.
This was not the first time Smart has flipped a recruit from his former school. On National Signing Day, four-star wide receiver Tyler Simmons, a teammate of Hockman’s at McEachern, chose Georgia after committing to Alabama in January. “I think Georgia’s going to be the primary competition for Alabama in recruiting,” Scout.com analyst John Garcia Jr. says. “It’s not going to be Auburn, it’s not going to be LSU, it’s going to be Georgia for the next handful of years easily to me.”
Garcia says he thinks Fromm’s flip was a “big loss” because of the potential for him to serve as a recruiter for Alabama. “A lot of schools, I would say more schools than not, they rely on those quarterbacks to communicate with those not only committed kids, but prospective commits as well, because obviously there’s no rules against recruit-to-recruit contact,” Garcia says.
Still, with more than 10 months until Signing Day 2017, the Crimson Tide have plenty of time to add another quarterback to fill the spot vacated by Fromm. In consulting with Garcia, here are three strong candidates to consider, listed in alphabetical order:
Smart took Fromm from Saban, but will another of Saban's former defensive coordinators beat him out for a different elite QB prospect? Bentley’s father, Bobby, was hired as the running backs coach under South Carolina’s Will Muschamp in December. Alabama offered Bentley at the conclusion of a trip to Tuscaloosa in early March, less than a week after Fromm flipped to Georgia. AL.com reported that Bentley plans to make a return visit. Bentley, the No. 9 quarterback in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com, passed for 2,834 yards with 28 touchdowns as a junior at Opelika (Ala.) High last season, according to MaxPreps.
A former Alabama quarterback commit flips to Georgia, and a former Georgia quarterback commit flips with Alabama? Don’t rule out the possibility. Hockman noted on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that the Crimson Tide have “officially re-offered!!!!” him. In an interview with Scout.com affiliate InsideTennessee, Hockman said Alabama is one of his top five schools, along with Auburn, Florida State, North Carolina and Tennessee. He also said that he would “probably go to Alabama soon.” Scout.com rates Hockman the No. 15 quarterback in the class of 2017.
The same day Alabama extended an offer to Bentley, it also offered Tagovailoa. According to Scout.com, Tagovailoa visited USC and UCLA earlier this month and named the Trojans as the leader in his recruitment. But don’t count out the Crimson Tide; Tagovailoa included them in the top eight he released last week. The list also includes Ole Miss, USC, UCLA, Texas A&M, Washington, Hawaii and Arizona. Tagovailoa, whom Scout.com rates the No. 4 quarterback in the class of 2017, attends Saint Louis School in Honolulu, the high school that produced former Oregon Star and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Any of these three passers would represent an acceptable alternative to Fromm, but keep in mind that it’s still early. A lot can change between now and the first Wednesday of next February. After all, at this point two years ago, Barnett was still committed to the Fighting Irish.
SEC players to watch in 2016
Jonathan Allen, Alabama DE
Allen recorded 36 tackles, 12 sacks and two forced fumbles during his first-team All-SEC campaign as a junior. After passing on the NFL draft, he's now poised to step into an even larger role on the Crimson Tide's defensive line, which loses A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed.
Nick Chubb, Georgia RB
A knee injury ended Chubb's season after just six games in 2015, halting a torrid start in which he gained at least 120 yards in each of the Bulldogs' first five contests. Chubb has looked healthy in fall practices and should be ready when Georgia kicks off the season against North Carolina.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee QB
Dobbs finished fifth in the SEC in passing yards last fall in his first season as the full-time starter. He threw for 2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns while also rushing for 671 yards and another 11 scores.
Leonard Fournette, LSU RB
Fournette was a consensus first team All-America last season and he'll be on the short list to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016. He rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M DE
The 6'5" defensive end had 11.5 sacks and 59 tackles as a sophomore, building on a breakout 2014 campaign in which he broke Jadeveon Clowney's SEC record for sacks by a freshman.
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee RB
Hurd started every game for the Volunteers last season as a sophomore and earned second team All-SEC honors. He rushed for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss QB
Kelly was one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Manning Award, which is awarded to the nation's top quarterback. He earned second-team All-SEC honors after throwing for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M WR
Kirk made an immediate impact as a true freshman, racking up 1,009 receiving yards with seven touchdowns while also averaging 19.3 yards per kickoff return and 24.4 yards per punt return. He was the lone freshman to be named to the AP's first-team All-SEC last season.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR
Ridley emerged as the Crimson Tide's new primary receiver in only his freshman season, catching 89 passes for 1,045 yards with seven touchdowns. He came up big late in the season, gaining 138 yards with two scores in the playoff semifinal against Michigan State.
Jalen Tabor, Florida CB
Tabor was one of two Florida cornerbacks (along with Vernon Hargreaves III) to be named to first-team All-SEC in 2015 after he recorded 40 tackles, four interceptions and two touchdowns. He is suspended for the Gators' season opener against UMass but will be back for their start to SEC play against Kentucky in Week 2.
Social media item of the week
This is a good catch, with an even better celebration, from Fulton (Tenn.) High wide receiver/defensive back Zack Dobson at The Opening Regional event in Atlanta on Sunday.
Three things to know
• If there’s any anxiety over Stanford’s current quarterback situation following the departure of four-year starter Kevin Hogan, there should be plenty of optimism about the Cardinal’s future at the position. Last week Stanford secured a verbal commitment from Davis Mills, the No. 8 passer in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com. Mills, who chose the Cardinal over reported scholarship offers from Michigan, Ole Miss and UCLA, among other programs, joins a Stanford class that already includes pledges from four-star tight end Colby Parkinson and four-star athlete Sione Heimuli-Lund. Mills threw for 2,821 yards with 25 touchdowns as a junior at Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.) School last season, according to MaxPreps. While either junior Keller Chryst or senior Ryan Burns is expected to win the Cardinal’s starting job this year, the program is set to add another highly-regarded signal caller before Mills arrives on campus—true freshman K.J. Costello, Scout.com’s No. 6 quarterback in the class of 2016.
• More quarterback news! Two programs earned commitments from highly regarded dual-threat signal callers. On Saturday afternoon, Vanguard (Fla.) High’s N’Kosi Perry announced on Twitter that he has pledged to Miami. Perry previously committed to the Hurricanes last September, when former coach Al Golden was in charge, but decided to renounce that commitment in February. It took less than two months for him to change his mind again. For what it’s worth, he included the hashtag #ForGood in the tweet announcing his latest pledge. (In addition, three-star passer Cade Weldon announced Monday that he will attend Miami.) Meanwhile, Cedar Hill (Texas) High’s Avery Davis revealed Saturday he has committed to Notre Dame. Davis pledged to the Irish while attending the program’s junior day in South Bend, Ind. Davis and Perry are rated the No. 12 and No. 16 quarterbacks, respectively, in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com. Their pledges mean that 13 of Scout.com’s top 18 passers in the class are verbally commitments to programs. The highest rated uncommitted QB? Tagovailoa.
• Smart is doing everything he can to try to persuade the state of Georgia’s best prospects to play for the Bulldogs. Rather than wait for a typical “junior day” to have coveted recruits on campus, Smart is inviting them to Athens, Ga., after they’ve played only one season of high school football. Last weekend the program hosted a “Freshman Day” for the top 50 class of 2019 prospects hailing from the Peach State. While some may condemn the event as yet another indication of the accelerated timeline of modern recruiting, there’s no doubt this could help the Bulldogs down the line. By giving the state’s top prospects an early look at his program, Smart and his staff can begin developing relationships with them before other programs. These freshmen recruits—including Grayson High’s Owen Pappoe, a potential five-star outside linebacker who already counts more than 20 reported scholarship offers—won’t be able to sign a National Letter of Intent for three years. However, this early pitch could increase Georgia’s chances of eventually landing those signatures.