Monday, January 27, 2014

Recruiting Rashaan: More At Stake Than Just A Signature

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It's easy to give the recruitment of the top player in the state of Alabama a number. We like to assign these kids numbers like "5." As in, "5 Stars". Or "14", as in Evan's rank in the country. Perhaps the most important number is "1". I guess that makes sense, don't it? Rashaan Evans is the number 1 player in the state of Alabama. Additionally, securing this guy and his impressive stature and speed could possibly catapult either of these teams to that coveted spot....#1 and Signing Day National Champions.

Put all that aside, just for a second. Forget about the numbers. Forget about what they could or would or should mean. Concentrate on what getting Evans signature means for either of these schools.

 Wait, we are going too fast.

First, we have to have a little history lesson. In the waning years of Tuberville's era, when Saban showed up in Tuscaloosa, recruiting went to a higher gear than perhaps anyone ever dreamed. While recruiting has always been the lifeblood of winning football games, Saban brought a whole new style and energy to it, landing some of the finest classes that college football has ever seen. Quite literally, he woke the rest of the country up to what recruiting could be, though some might not agree it's what it should be. The paradigm was immediately apparent. Here is what you thought recruiting is. Here is what Saban has done. He recruiting across the country, selling his brand to kids who never would have thought to venture further than a state or two from their own home. What got lost in the shuffle was his stranglehold he put on the state of Alabama. This state, despite the perception that the rest of the country has about it's backwards ways, it's level of poverty, low education, and typical Southern traditions, has a way of pumping out some of the games finest players. It isn't even a per-capita number. Take away Florida, Texas, and California, and you will find Alabama right there among the top.

While many of Saban's classes had heavy numbers from the aforementioned states, he was routinely pulling in 15-16 of the top 20 players in the state. One of Chizik's first goals in recruiting was to stymie the flow of blue chippers into Tuscaloosa. Even after a solid 8-5 first year campaign, a National Championship, and the fruit in recruiting that his good years supplied, he was usually only able to bag 2 of the top 10 and usually 5 of the top 20. But, to his credit, he was able to get the very top of the pile more often than that. Of course, Chizik was shown to be unable to both pick recruits by more than the stars given the player OR he was unable to develop them. I feel it was a combination of both.

Malzahn picked up where Chizik left off. He came right out and said it. Recruiting the fertile grounds of Alabama was paramount. Win in the state and then look outside of it. His first full recruiting year has, by the numbers we apply to it, been a rousing success. He has gone toe to toe with Saban within the state of Alabama.

So, we look at the Top 15 in the state. Auburn has #3, #4, #7, #10, #12, #13, and #14. Alabama has #5, #6, #8, and  #9 and a proposed massive edge with Humphrey who sits at #2. You have only a couple of outsiders committed to outside schools, but it's that #1 that everyone will remember this class by, even if Alabama reins supreme on total recruits and Auburn takes the majority of the states best.

Auburn has long since been the little brother of Alabama. Even though no school has won more SEC titles in this generation, no team has more undefeated seasons, and Auburn has been on top of Alabama in the Iron Bowl since 1989, the stigma is still there. So when we see Marlon Humphrey, son of Alabama great Bobby Humphrey, everyone is ready to write him off to Tuscaloosa. We just shrug and accept it. If Malzahn doesn't win him over (though he isn't even considering Auburn at this point) we don't get our feelings hurt.

So how is it that the kid just above him isn't that way for Auburn. Evans is the son of an Auburn player, though not one you remember. I mean, who would remember Bo Jackson's backup? That's no slight against him at all, that's just the truth. And you tell me that he is from Auburn High? That school I drive by when I go to every Auburn Tiger game? How is this kid not a lock? Why do we concede a kid like Humphrey and not have a lock on Evans?

Look, I understand why. Saban IS the best in the game and I don't have a problem saying that. He revolutionized recruiting. He has the trophies and he puts defenders in the NFL. And he does it in the First Round. If my kid was a potential NFL talent defender, and I had to look at what each school has done on defense....well, let's just say that there would be a lot of soul searching.

So, starting to sound like there is more on the line with getting Evans than just a signature. A kid could prosper or flop. But the statement that is made for getting a kid from your own backyard plucked will ring a long time after the kid has gone on with his life. Even from a numbers perspective. If Humphrey goes where we think he does and Evans goes to Auburn, Auburn will have done something pretty impressive. It will have won the state of Alabama. Now, Malzahn won't have that magic trophy that seems to exist for winning National Signing Day, but he will at least make Auburn more than relevant in recruiting Alabama. He will have taken Auburn from sniping a few recruits, to whom early playing time is nearly promised because of holes in the roster, to stockpiling recruits to do something Saban has done for nearly a decade. Reload. And reload again.

But what if Evans goes to Alabama? Sure, Auburn will still have a fine recruiting class and may still lead Alabama with total recruits in the Top 15. But they would feature a top heavy list including the Golden Prize who played his high school ball in the shadow Jordan-Hare and just a walk from Toomer's. The statement from either side will be huge, no matter what the final recruiting rankings show or how these prospects pan out.

For Auburn, it's show that Tuscaloosa never had a chance at taking East Alabama's finest. Oh, and by the way, the free reign over the states top recruits is over. Auburn won't take what's left to fill holes. It's toe to toe from now on.

For Alabama, it's the status quo, and by the way, Bama will also cherry pick Auburn's best. Even the kids that play their high school ball within an eagle's flight of your stadium.

It's a recruiting battles with massive implications. Some of which are easy to assign numbers and declare winners. But it's this battle with out numbers. What will the signing of Evans really mean when the ink is dried? While Malzhan is giving it his full effort, as we continue to read, it's a battle he must win.