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Alabama Football Recruiting: Overhyped

With less than 48 hours remaining until Signing Day, the year-long recruiting hype train is, really, just getting warmed up. The next 3 days are going to be filled with a non-stop barrage of rumors and innuendos, never letting up until every last teenager has done something silly with a baseball cap and every last LOI is faxed. And as has been the case every year since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is expected to be at the forefront of it all on February 2nd, for better or for worse (but mostly better).

Will Bama fans be feeling triumphant when it's all said and done, as they were in 2008 and 2009 when the Tide reeled in #1 rated signing classes? Or will we be left feeling melancholic and strangely disappointed after missing out on several high-profile prospects late in the game like last year (though still finishing with a consensus Top 5 class, mind you)?

As regular readers may have picked up on by now, I'm a little bit jaded to the whole recruiting phenomenon. But don't get me wrong: I have no doubt that recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football team. It's a fact. The teams that do it the best consistently tend to be the best teams on the field in the fall. And I want Alabama to be one of those teams. I think I'm mainly just turned off to the industry of recruiting and the culture of general insanity that's grown up around it (and really exploded over the last 5 years or so). As Pat Forde said in regards to the Cam Newton situation, and I think generalizes to the broader state of the recruiting industry, we've all gotten a little too far into the sausage factory.

All that said, this here's a college football blog, and recruiting is going to be THE story in college football this week. So I'm gonna do my duty to add to the insanity by giving you the best coverage of Alabama's 2011 recruiting class that I'm capable of (which may not be much).

Much like last recruiting cycle (and likely every cycle from here on out as long as Saban is around), Bama hoarded commitments early in the process and will be spending most of the end of the cycle protecting their current commits from poachers and chasing after a select few elite prospects. This way of doing things led to somewhat of a sleepy Signing Day in 2010, but that doesn't look to be the case this year. The Tide is still a legit player for several big-time recruits capable of making an instant impact on campus. So today, I'm kicking things off with a look at the top uncommitted prospects that Alabama is still actively recruiting and has a realistic shot at signing.

Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End (South Carolina)
Rivals: 5* Scout: 5*
The Competition: South Carolina

This guy needs no introduction. He's #1 on everybody's board, but his recruitment has essentially been a two-horse race between Bama and his home state Gamecocks since this past summer. At one point, there was even a status update on his Facebook page saying that he had chosen the Tide, but that turned out to be a false alarm. Actually, I'm still not sure what that was about. If all things were equal, I think he'd be a lock to Alabama. He projects as a prototypical Jack linebacker (pass rush specialist) in Saban's scheme. However, distance from home is a big concern for his family, particularly his mother and she seems to be the identified "decision maker" in his recruitment. She recently accompanied her son on an official visit to Tuscaloosa (her first trip to T-town), and word is Mrs. Saban worked Mama Clowney hard. But was it too little too late? No one knows since Clowney has reportedly shut down all communication in the lead up to his announced signing date of February 14th. But the Gamecocks have developed an improbably strong pull amongst in-state recruits over the past few years, and I'd have to consider them the slight betting favorite.

My Best Guess: South Carolina

Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Tackle (Maryland)
Rivals: 5* Scout: 5*
The Competition: Auburn, Iowa, New Mexico

If Clowney is the top guy on Bama's board, Cyrus isn't far behind. He's 6'7", 322 lbs, and has an incredibly well-developed physique for a high school OL. He looks chisled out of stone. More to the point, he looks like a 4-year starter at left tackle. His older brother, Arie, signed with the Tide last year and redshirted this past season. Needless to say, Nick Saban and his coaching staff have a long-standing relationship with the family and have to be considered the heavy favorites to land the big guy. But you shouldn't assume this is a "lay down" either. Cyrus is on the record regarding his reservations about competing against his brother for playing time (reportedly allayed by the coaching staff laying out their plans for Arie at RT or guard only) and has repeatedly declined to name a leader and has taken every one of his official visits, including back to back trips to Iowa and Auburn. Auburn is a late addition to Cyrus' Top 5 and mainly got there by virtue of Miami falling off his list after the sacking of Randy Shannon. There was some talk that Auburn would make a logical alternative to Bama if his concerns about competing with his brother won out (due to being an easier trip for his parents to visit both), but it's really difficult for me to believe Auburn could pull him from Bama after getting into the game so late. If that were to happen, I'm sorry, but something smells funny on the Plains, as usual.

My Best Guess: Alabama

Isaiah Crowell, Running Back (Georgia)
Rivals: 5* Scout: 5*
The Competition: Georgia

At one point, Crowell was the Tide's #1 running back target in this class. Maybe he still is (if so, it didn't stop Bama from taking the commitment of fellow 5* RB Dee Hart and get him enrolled this spring). Crowell's commitment has been a bit of a roller coaster. Early in the process, he was basically a lock for Bama. Georgia made some significant strides with him over the summer to make it a 50/50 race. But then the Dawgs went on that horrible losing streak early in the season and lost momentum. Since the season ended, Georgia has put an all-out blitz on Crowell, sending small armies of coaches to visit him at once and offering a scholarship to his previously no-scholarship-offer-having friend. So they worked it back to something close to 50/50 again, with maybe a slight edge to UGA. I think the tipping point for his decision was the commitment of Hart, though. You just DON'T get two backs of that caliber in the same class. Not enough carries to go around. Bama is still fighting for him, but ultimately I think this plays out like Auburn's pursuit of Marcus Lattimore after already taking Michael Dyer last year. It's one or the other, never both.

My Best Guess: Georgia

Nickolas Brassell, Wide Receiver (Mississippi)
Rivals: 4* Scout: 4*
The Competition: Ole Miss

The one-time Mississippi State commit now seems to no longer even be considering the Bulldogs. After his decommitment (what a word), it was widely assumed Brassell would quickly follow his good friend Tobias Singleton to Ole Miss, but that was not the case. Brassell kept his options open which left the door cracked for the Tide to get in as a serious player for his signature. In fact, Bama was able to score his last official visit this past weekend. And while Bama isn't exactly hurting for receivers in this class (already holding commitments from 4 pure wideouts), Saban is leaving no stone unturned as he attempts to find his next #1 receiver after the departure of Julio Jones. There is also some scuttlebutt that Saban may have talked to Brassell about making a move to defensive back (which IS a position the Tide could use a little help with in this class) on his visit. His openness to this possibility will probably go a long way towards influencing his decision. Right now, this one is too close to call.

My Best Guess: 50/50

Jeoffery Pagan, Defensive End (North Carolina)
Rivals: 4* Scout: 4*
The Competition: Georgia

Much like Brassell, Bama got serious about Pagan (one-time Florida commit turned Clemson commit turned uncommitted) late in the process. On the surface, it bodes well for Bama that Pagan decided to part ways with Clemson following his official visit in Tuscaloosa. The Tide had a tremendous amount of momentum at the time, but that was quickly derailed when Ray Drew committed to Georgia. Pagan has a good relationship with Drew, and the general consensus was that Pagan was going to end up wherever Drew did as long as it wasn't Auburn. Well, it wasn't Auburn. Bama is going to keep working on him, but it would be a major surprise if he inks anywhere other than Georgia.

My Best Guess: Georgia

So there you have it. Of the top uncommitted guys, I say we get Kouandjio, maybe Brassell, and that's it. Not a very inspiring projection for Signing Day, I know, but you have to keep in mind Alabama already has Rivals' #1 ranked recruiting class WITHOUT any of these guys. While they likely wouldn't hold onto that spot (who cares?) with strong finishes from the likes of FSU or Georgia, the fact is it's an incredibly strong class as it stands right now. It only gets better with the addition of any of these guys, not worse without them.

So that's that.

I plan to be back tomorow to look at which current Bama commitments might end up elsewhere come Signing Day and which other schools' commitments may end up in Crimson when it's all said and done.

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