With 14 national championships to its credit, the University of Alabama has some stellar recruiting classes to go along with them. The distant past gets a little hazy as far as recruiting classes, because the "ESPN Top 150" didn't exist. (Naturally, as TV and the Internet hadn't been invented, either.)
I did my best in determining when players were recruited. Pre-1972, I made the assumption that the first year of play was their recruiting year. As freshmen were not allowed to play, I doubt that colleges would waste a signature on an ineligible player.
Football has come a long way since those days, but the men that took the early fields made it what it has become. These recruits helped blaze the trail in a major way, and some still stand in record books today.
Without further ado, here are the Tide's 10 greatest recruiting classes of all time. I have presented them in chronological order.
Headliners: Johnny "Mack" Brown and Bruce Jones (team captain, 1925)
Accomplishments: 1925 and 1926 National Champions
It was tough to pick this class over the previous year, as 1922 housed the great "Pooley" Hubert. However, when Alabama went back-to-back in 1925 and 1926, Johnny "Mack" Brown was also one of the greats.
Brown was on the field for the 1925 season, and he returned in 1926 as an assistant coach. As difficult as it was to choose, especially almost 100 years later, I gave the nod to the 1923 class for contributing the 1925 team captain and a staff member for 1926.
"The game that changed the South" earns these men their spot on this list.
Headliner: Johnny Cain
Accomplishments: 1930 National Champions
There are two major players that took the field for the 1930 national championship, and they are Fred Sington and Johnny Cain. Cain was elected to the Tide's All-Century Team as the punter.
After the 1926 Rose Bowl victory and the 1927 Rose Bowl tie with the Stanford Cardinal, 'Bama was invited to play a third "just to make REALLY sure they're good" Rose Bowl. (Result: 24-0 shutout over Washington State.)
In 1931, Cain punted 19 times against Tennessee and averaged 48 yards per punt. Number of punts and total punt yardage still stand in the Alabama record book to this day as single-game marks. (That's 81 years for those of you counting.)
Headliners: Don Hutson and Millard "Dixie" Howell
Accomplishments: 1934 National Champions
Don Hutson and Dixie Howell are two of the greatest players in Tide history, and Hutson is considered by many to be the best that 'Bama ever fielded. The fact that they reached the Capstone in the same year made this a delightfully easy pick for this list.
The Tide registered an undefeated season in 1934, racked up five shutouts and never allowed more than 14 points in any single game.
Headliners: Pat Trammell and Billy Neighbors
Accomplishments: 1961 National Champions
The 1961 Crimson Tide is a legendary team in the history of college football. They allowed a ridiculously low 25 points on the season and posted six shutouts. (Five of those shutouts were consecutive to close the regular season.)
Arkansas managed to score three points in the Sugar Bowl to avoid shutout No. 7.
Headliners: Joe Namath and Ray Ogden (team captain, 1964)
Accomplishments: 1964 National Championship
This is one of the championships that anti-'Bama fans point out as controversial. The Tide posted a 17-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl, but the National Championship was awarded before the bowls in this era of football.
Namath is a household name in the world of football, whether college or NFL. Namath's Super Bowl MVP awarded for Super Bowl III made the University of Alabama the home of the first three Super Bowl MVP's. (Bart Starr in Super Bowls I and II.)
Headliners: Ray Perkins and John Sullivan
Accomplishments: 1965 National Champions (consensus)
This is another recruiting class on the list that was engineered by the legendary Bear Bryant. Bryant coached the Tide to six national championships before he retired from the Capstone.
This class wasn't necessarily outstanding in terms of some of the teams Bryant put together in Tuscaloosa, but an 11-point demolition of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl capped off a season that would not soon be forgotten in T-town. ('Bama doesn't forget their championships.)
Headliner: Dwight Stephenson
Accomplishments: 1978 and 1979 National Champions
Bear Bryant called Stephenson the best player he ever coached, regardless of position. Stephenson would anchor an offensive line through one of the greatest eras of Crimson Tide history.
He would be joined by an equally-famous player in 1977, but would not be overshadowed.
Headliner: Major Ogilvie
Accomplishments: 1978 and 1979 National Champions
Major Ogilvie came to the Capstone in 1977, and made the starting lineup for the 1978 championship run. Bear Bryant came to the Capstone with a simple idea: win championships.
He began selling that idea in the recruiting game, and the rest is history. It's a simple idea, but far from easy. (If it were easy, everyone would do it.) Bryant's recruiting is legendary, much like almost everything the Bear did in life.
Finding a way to add talent to the 1976 class had to be a daunting task, but he did it with the very next class. The '78 and '79 championships speak for themselves in that regard.
There was basically a three-way tie for this slot in the article. The three years were 1989 (George Teague), 1990 (Antonio Langham) and 1991 (Jay Barker).
It's hard to say which was the best player of the three, as Teague and Langham were complementary cornerbacks on the same field. Jay Barker at quarterback made all the difference in the world as well.
Headliner: Antonio Langham, class of 1990
Accomplishments: 1992 National Champions
Langham wins the tiebreaker with his pick-six in the inaugural SEC Championship Game in 1992 on the way to the "unwinnable" 1992 Sugar Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes.
George Teague gets an honorable mention here for the play at 1:11 in the above video. Had the play stood instead of being called back for a penalty, the class of 1989 would have won the tiebreaker.
Offensive Headliners: Julio Jones and Mark Ingram
Defensive Headliners: Terrence Cody and Dont'a Hightower
Accomplishments: 2009 and 2011 National Champions
Three of the headliners would not be present at the Capstone for the 2011 title game. But Brad Smelley, Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw were, just to name a few.
I would dare say that this class rivals the 1976 class. If the Tide had played better in three games in 2010, this class would have been largely responsible for the first-ever three-peat in college football history.
As it stands, they got two out of three and a Capital One beatdown of Michigan State in between championships. In the recent trouncing of LSU, the 2008 class' defense held the Tigers to zero points and only one (short-lived) trip across midfield.
This was one of the most talented classes of the Saban era, and we owe them BIG for breaking a dry spell in Tuscaloosa that started in 1993.