Is that a sign that things are not going well for Alabama on the football recruiting trail?
I don't put too much stock into rankings–even those of Scout.com, which has more professionals with a quality track record than any other service. But I also recognize that teams with highly-ranked recruiting classes year-after-year are also winning football programs.
Alabama's recruiting class seems to have come down to one player. Land super offensive lineman Andre Smith of Birmingham Huffman and it is a great year. Miss out on Smith and it is a disaster. That's the perception. The reality is that missing out on Smith is only a near-disaster. And that's because of perception. Alabama Coach Mike Shula needs to land the number one lineman, number two overall prospect in the nation, from his own backyard, Particularly since Auburn saw the futility of recruiting the high-quality young man.
One reason the seeming success of the recruiting season for Bama has come down to Andre Smith is that the Crimson Tide has too many runner-ups this year. Alabama is considered to have finished second for three top Florida commitments–quarterback Tim Tebow and linebackers A.J. Jones and Brandon Spikes–as well as offensive lineman Jermarcus Ricks of Leighton (Auburn), quarterback Mitch Mustain (Arkansas) and a few others.
Generally speaking, a team that goes after the very best players is not going to get them all. When there is success, it is great success. But more often than not there will be failure, because the competition is great for the great prospects.
Consider the long odds against Alabama getting some of those top prospects. Tim Tebow lives an hour from Gainesville, grew up a Florida fan, has parents who are Florida alumni and Gators fanatics, and Florida wanted him very much. Change the word "Florida" to "Alabama" and where do you think he would have selected? Can you say "Brodie Croyle"?
Mitch Mustain lives on the outskirts of Fayetteville and is a lifelong Arkansas fan. Arkansas hired his high school coach to be offensive coordinator, a position that did not previously exist for the Hogs under Houston Nutt. Where was he going?
Jermarcus Ricks has a half brother playing at Auburn. Where do you think his mother wanted him to go? Mothers are big in recruiting. A couple of months ago sources in Leighton said that Ricks favored Alabama, but things change in recruiting.
The passions were so high that some Alabama followers accused Scout.com recruiting analyst and television (Countdown To Signing Day) host Jamie Newberg of recruiting for Florida. (I can remember back a few years when Newberg lived in Georgia and the same fans accused him of recruiting for Georgia.)
That is a double insult to the coaching staff at Alabama (and elsewhere), which is fully capable of "out-recruiting" Newberg, even if the charges were true. Which they are not, by the say. The second insult is that Alabama (and other colleges) would lack the insight of football fans about Newberg's activities or that they would allow an outsider to help Florida in recruiting without making a report to the NCAA.
There are two Andre Smith questions as the Wednesday, February 1, Signing Day approaches. The question of greatest interest is "Where is he going?" Although he may not have grown up an Alabama fan like Tebow grew up a Florida fan, Smith probably has more affinity for Bama than for any other school. And geography–important to family and friends who want to see him play–is an important factor in Bama's favor.
Players select schools for any number of reasons, like other college students. But surveys show that four of the most important factors are: Closeness to home (give Alabama an A); Facilities (another A); Potential For Early Playing Time (yet another A); and the Recruiting Coach (Smith's father says Bama's Charlie Harbison has done the best job, so another A).
There have been numerous reports that Andre is the cousin of Bama defensive tackle Dominic Lee. An upcoming article on Lee in 'BAMA Magazine discusses that relationship. The two are not cousins, but are very close.
Of course, there could be other factors that are not A grades for Bama that will have an effect. Still, you wouldn't want to be another college up against those odds. They are like the odds Alabama faced in going after Tebow.
But what if the Crimson Tide doesn't get Andre Smith?
Surely Shula, Harbison, Recruiting Coordinator Randy Ross, and Offensive Line Coach Bob Connelly will slit their wrists. After all, Alabama football would be finished.
Of course that is ridiculous. Alabama is going to have a good recruiting year with or without Andre Smith. (Better with, to be sure.)
It is important that Alabama sign enough to bring in 25 new players next August (which may mean signing at least 27 to allow for academic attrition). It is important, but not critical. Better to have fewer good players than loading up on scholarshipped players just to say you have a full boat. Alabama won 10 games last year with substantially fewer scholarshipped players than its opponents, and the Tide is building correctly towards a more level playing field.
It would be great to get Andre Smith and Tim Hawthorne and Peanut Whitehead; Michael Goggans and Ugo Chinasa and Marcus Udell and whomever else you think is critical. All of that is not going to happen. But year-in and year-out–including this year–Alabama and Mike Shula will be very successful in selecting and signing young men who will be dedicated and accomplished Crimson Tide football players.