2. I was composing this post in the shower this morning and wanted to start by saying that Nick Saban's two #1 classes have had everything but an elite quarterback, but Dr. Saturday had beaten me to it. To me, there are a few possibilities. One is that there hasn't been an elite quarterback in Saban/Alabama's recruiting sweet spot: Alabama, Mississippi, Memphis, and the Florida Panhandle. A second possibility is that Saban is slightly hamstrung in recruiting a quarterback because his offensive systems aren't as attractive to high school players and he doesn't have a track record of putting quarterbacks in the NFL. A third possibility is that Saban doesn't prioritize recruiting quarterbacks in the same way that he prioritizes recruiting other positions because he's won with game managers. With quarterbacks, he could be a Bobby Knight who would rather have a player who follows instructions and runs a system than a headstrong talent who is likely to freelance.
Regardless of the explanation, Saban's offenses are going to need to be a little better in order for Alabama to truly achieve parity with Florida. We know that Meyer's offenses and Saban's defenses will be top shelf, so it's quite possible that SEC titles in the near future will come down to whether Meyer's weak suit is better than Saban's. As long as Meyer has Charlie Strong and a pile of defensive talent, his defenses will be almost as good as his offenses. Saban is assembling excellent talent on offense, but if he is going to continue to go the conventional running/play-action route with game manager quarterbacks, he is going to be half a step behind Florida.
2a. All that said, Saban is absolutely living up to the description from Michael Lewis's The Blind Side of being a super recruiter. I always thought that Alabama was at a disadvantage compared to Florida, Georgia, and LSU because it's local talent base isn't as good and they have to share some of it with Auburn. What I'm realizing is that there is more talent in Alabama than I had previously thought and Saban is getting all of it. If Auburn's decision-makers knew that a second straight whitewash of in-state recruiting was coming, then their decision to fire Tuberville makes a little more sense. I still don't agree with it, but it's not as irrational as I first thought.
3. If you want an illustration of the disparity in talent between the Southeast and the Upper Midwest, check out the number of four- and five-star recruits in the following states:
Florida - 61
Georgia - 22
Louisiana - 14
Alabama - 12
Ohio - 16
Michigan - 11
Pennsylvania - 9
Illinois - 9
These numbers come from Rivals, but one can reach a similar conclusion from Scout's or ESPN's rankings.
Yeah, down year in the Midwest, blah blah blah blah. What you're seeing is the effect of population draining from the Upper Midwest to the Sunbelt. I'm going to write a lot more on this subject over the summer, but one subject that I specifically want to cover is whether the socio-economic groups that are moving South are more likely to be the same groups that tend to produce blue chip prospects. What you're also seeing is a justification for Michigan going with Rich Rodriguez because Michigan needs a coach who: (1) runs a specialized system that can be an equalizing factor for lesser talent; and (2) can recruit the Sunbelt.
Also, I have to begrudgingly give some respect to Jim Tressel for pulling a second straight top five class out of a region that doesn't produce a ton of talent. In the past two years, Ohio State has pulled 19 recruits rated by Rivals as a 5.9 or higher; 11 have come from outside of Ohio. The stereotype of Ohio State as being a plodding Midwestern team might be apt in terms of scheme, but it will not be true in terms of talent in the coming years as these two classes emerge. If Ohio State keeps losing to Sunbelt teams, it won't be because of a lack of speed.
4. I liked Georgia's class, although I would have liked to see more than three offensive linemen in light of the problems that Georgia has been having at the position. I'm excited to see what Richt will do with Aaron Murray, who is a bit more mobile than the average Richt quarterback (save for D.J. Shockley). I'm also excited to see what Georgia can do with 6'5 Marlon Brown opposite 6'4 A.J. Green. How many teams have two big corners? And is there anyone who isn't penciling Branden Smith in for a starting spot by the end of September?
5. If you wonder whether Notre Dame still has pull in the media, look at the way that ESPN treated Manti Te'o signing with the Irish - updates on ESPN radio, front page of ESPN.com, mention on SportsCenter - with other top players who announced on Signing Day, such as ESPN's #1 DB (Dre Kirkpatrick) and #1 RB (Trent Richardson), both of whom signed with Alabama.
6. There is no other way to put this: Lane Kiffin looks like an absolute amateur when he rips on Urban Meyer for an alleged NCAA violation and then has to apologize because there was no violation. At first, I simply thought that Kiffin was going to get shown up by Florida in Gainesville in September. Now, Kiffin resembles a little kid who was scolded by his elders and then put in his place. Andy Staples nails it:
If Kiffin didn't intend to offend Meyer by calling him a cheater, what did he intend to do? Kiffin had better hope his coaching staff -- which is excellent, by the way -- whips the 5-7 team he inherited into shape by Sept. 19. That's when the Vols visit The Swamp, where Meyer and the defending national champs will be waiting. And in case Kiffin isn't clear on how Meyer handles slights, he can call Georgia's Mark Richt. Richt's players flooded the end zone on the first touchdown of the Bulldogs' victory against the Gators in 2007. Despite the fact that Richt spent the next 12 months apologizing for the incident, Meyer still burned two late timeouts to rub in a 49-10 beatdown when the teams met again. If Meyer humiliated Richt, a coach he respects, for that transgression, imagine what he wants to do to Kiffin.
My hatred for Tennessee had dwindled over the past several years because they were no longer good enough to despise, but Kiffin has managed to renew all of those feelings in a short amount of time.
7. Are we beginning to see the first signs of Pac Ten programs starting to compete with USC in recruiting? G-d forbid! After Signing Day 2007, I wrote this:
Pac Ten programs not named USC took two of the top ten players in California this year. They took one of the top ten in 2006. They took three of the top ten in 2005. They took four of the top ten in 2004. Thus, in a four-year period, USC has signed 25 of the players on the California top ten list and the rest of the conference has signed ten. The argument that SEC fans should be making to belittle USC's success is not that USC would go 8-3 in the SEC, a totally unsupportable claim given the ridiculous amounts of talent that USC deploys. Instead, the argument should be that USC benefits from the fact that no one else on the West Coast can recruit worth a damn.
This year, USC signed four of the top ten players in California and the rest of the conference signed five. In USC's defense, they did sign three of the four five-star players in-state and the fourth decommitted on Signing Day. We shouldn't shed any tears for USC, as they will still be significantly more talented than any other team in the Pac Ten for the foreseeable future.
Here's a little stat to illustrate that point: Rivals' database goes back to 2002. In the eight recruiting classes covered in the database, USC has finished in the top ten in the last seven seasons after finishing 13th in 2002. Collectively, the other nine teams in the Pac Ten have three top ten finishes in that eight-year period: UCLA's #9 finishes in 2002 and 2004 and Cal's #9 finish in 2005. USC's last seven recruiting classes have all finished higher than any recruiting class by any Pac Ten program over the past eight years. That's why it's hard for me to take the Pac Ten seriously. The conference may be well-coached, but the aggregate level of talent is poor outside of one major program. Hopefully, this year is a step towards the other nine members of the conference doing a little better on Signing Day.