Alabama football and a few other SEC schools dominate the landscape of college football recruiting. The key to continued success is the assistant coaches.
Even though the 2019 recruiting cycle is not over, the Alabama football No. 1 class so far is impressive. After an uncharacteristic dip to the No. 6 class in the nation, last year, Nick Saban and his staff have regained an upper hand.
Saban revamped his annual recruiting plan to focus on the Early Signing Period. More importantly, he bolstered the Crimson Tide coaching staff with energetic, talented recruiters. Despite the Alabama football recruiting resurgence, the challenge for top classes will get harder rather than easier.
The main reason recruiting will continue to get harder for the Crimson Tide is Saban’s success developing assistant coaches into head coaches. Not every CFB head coach who was formerly a Saban assistant is a threat to Crimson Tide recruiting. Billy Napier and Lane Kiffin, for example, are not going compete from Louisiana and FAU. Several others in the Saban tree are in the same situation.
But there are six current FBS head coaches at schools who already have or will cause Saban to miss on recruits. They are Kirby Smart (Georgia), Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee), Jimbo Fisher (TAMU), Will Muschamp (South Carolina), Mario Cristobal (Oregon) and Mike Locksley (Maryland.) Why these six, more so than guys like Ed Orgeron and Dan Mullen? The group of six listed above became well versed in the Saban process in Tuscaloosa. They learned the exact recruiting strategies of how to identify and close top players. They also will, to some degree, model their rosters with the type of players Saban likes to recruit. Plus, better than other coaches, they understand the few weaknesses in the Alabama football machine.
Recruiting territory is an important factor in recruiting success. But it is not the most important factor. Georgia is loaded with top high school talent. So is Texas, while Tennessee and South Carolina are not. Some close followers of national recruiting trends believe Texas and Georgia prospects are often over-rated. Louisiana, for example, with a base of high school talent presumed to be below Texas and Georgia, seems to produce more NFL success.
Schools like Alabama that can recruit nationally do have an advantage. Still, with Locksley soon at Maryland and Cristobal on the west coast, a few less, future players may choose the Crimson Tide. We have already seen it happen this year with Kayvon Thibodeaux choosing Oregon.
Whatever the challenge, Nick Saban will not back down. In order to persevere, Saban needs the assistance of ‘young-gun’ recruiters. Based on the current 247 Sports Recruiter rankings, the two top-rated recruiters are Tosh Lupoi and Brent Key. The Alabama football staff also has Karl Scott (No. 10), Joe Pannunzio (No. 15) and Josh Gattis (No. 21) in the Top 25 list of FBS recruiters. We assume Mike Locksley is no longer on the list because he is now also a head coach.
How tough is it to compete with other SEC schools in recruiting? In the above Top 25 list, 14 of the top assistant coach recruiters are from SEC schools.
How rapidly are Mario Cristobal and Jeremy Pruitt a regularly challenging Nick Saban for recruits? In current FBS Team Rankings from the 247 Sports Composite, Oregon is No. 6 and the Ducks have never had a Top 10 class. Returning from the near-dead, Pruitt has the Vols at No. 13.