It’s that time of year again: High school seniors finally put pen to paper to officially end their recruitment, jokes about fax machine awareness are made, fan bases draw up depth charts for future national championship runs and Alabama ends the day with the No. 1 class in the country.
On Wednesday, many Power 5 and Group of Five programs will confirm the majority of their 2019 recruiting classes as the early signing period begins. Alabama currently has the No. 1 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, restoring recruiting order after finishing with the fifth-best class in ’18. Barring an unforeseen twist, the ’19 cycle will mark the eighth time in the last 10 years that Nick Saban has boasted the nation’s top-ranked class, with only Urban Meyer’s Florida in ’10 and Kirby Smart’s Georgia last year briefly figuring out ways to beat him out.
This year Alabama counts 10 of the 247Sports composite’s top 100 players as part of its currently committed class, and of the Crimson Tide’s 24 verbal commitments, 23 are four- and five-stars. The lone three-star prospect? It’s kicker Will Reichard from Hoover, Ala., who happens to be the No. 1 player at his position.
And there’s still a chance the Crimson Tide entice a few more elite players to sign as they wait on final decisions. Alabama is battling its SEC peers for top-rated running back Trey Sanders out of IMG Academy (Fla.), who is also considering Georgia and Florida; on the defensive side, there’s five-star defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher of Amite (La.), who might be leaning toward LSU but will wait until February’s National Signing Day to make his final choice, and Horn Lake (Miss.) five-star Nakobe Dean, the top uncommitted linebacker in the country who is set to decide between Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss on Wednesday.
Regardless of how things end up, Alabama is expected to finish both the early period and the traditional signing day atop the heap. The momentum of the class and Nick Saban’s reputation as an unparalleled closer was tested Saturday when the No. 2 overall player in the country Kayvon Thibodeaux chose Oregon—and former Saban assistant Mario Cristobal—over Bama. Alabama’s lead in the 247Sports rankings is 17.14 points over Georgia, which has 19 verbal commits and the second-best class right now, and that lead is likely to hold even if Smart and Georgia snag targets like Sanders, Dean and five-star offensive tackle Evan Neal (IMG Academy). That Bulldogs class, however, does feature the 247Sports composite’s No. 1 player in defensive end Nolan Smith (IMG Academy) among its nation-leading four committed five-stars.
Drama has become synonymous with signing day, and even during last year’s low-hype inaugural early signing period, Clemson and Ohio State were put at odds when Dabo Swinney told the top-rated prospect in Ohio that Urban Meyer was on the back end of his career. Jackson Carman, a 6'5", 345-pound freshman offensive lineman for the Tigers, told reporters back then that, “it wasn’t a major factor, but it was an underlying one.” Swinney didn’t deny the story, and Meyer is about to coach his final game for the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
This year, there’s a chance the intrigue centers around Tuscaloosa. The storyline to keep an eye on is five-star safety Daxton Hill, the highest-ranked current public Alabama commit, who flipped from Michigan to Alabama after the Tide won the SEC championship. Will the nation’s No. 1 safety and Oklahoma’s Gatorade football player of the year award keep his pledge or jump back to the Wolverines? Hill hasn’t said much publicly regarding his decision to change his mind this late in the process, and Michigan is still recruiting him. It’s also unknown at this point if he will even sign during the early period or wait until February. In this case, it’s important to remember that nothing is certain until a letter of intent has been signed.
Alabama might lose a recruiting battle or two over these final days, but it will simultaneously add more elite talent to its class. As of now, it doesn’t seem like anything can realistically prevent Saban from winning recruiting season once again.