We've all seen the statement.
Whether it was something personally said or it was a point made by a rival fans over the last decade, Alabama fans have faced the reality that the talent fielded by teams in the SEC, and the NCAA as a whole, meant the Tide wasn't considered at an advantage.
In fact, it was a disparity that was easily recognized not only on the scoreboard, but in how many of those players leaving programs were of the ability to make it to the next level: playing on Sundays.
Most recently, we've seen both sides of this argument. One, against Florida in the SEC title game when the common cliche' was "Alabama has no match for the skill players Florida fields."
On the other end of the spectrum, we saw where rankings of prep players didn't have an impact, but having mature quality athletes led to Utah winning the Sugar Bowl of '09.
"When Nick Saban get his players in place..."
Rewind to last year...
Feb. 6, 2008.
ESPN Football Analyst Mike Gottfried:
"I said this earlier in the day. Write this down. This is the day the Alabama program turned the corner, and is going to become a power, and win the National Championship."
That was said after Coach Saban was able to sign his first complete class at Alabama. In one fatal swoop, he had signed as many 5-star players in one class than Mike Shula had signed in his entire tenure as the head coach of Alabama.
Fast forward to today...
The Playing Field is even.
While there is still a lot of youth on the Bama sidelines, as compared to a few of the other programs ranked highly around the league, the talent level isn't as heavily slanted as it once was in favor of those playing against the Tide.
The issue so often referred to ("depth is their weakness,") isn't a phrase that can be used when looking at the upcoming match-ups the Tide will face in 2009 and beyond.
In fact, it's closely becoming a situation where the professionals will end up saying, "Alabama fields more talent" than teams like Texas, LSU, Florida and will soon be on the same level as USC (the real one).
Granted, the rankings of a recruiting service are not the end all-be all, when it comes to results on the field. But, when you look at teams who are the front runners to compete for the BCS National Championship, you'll find one thing they all have one thing in common: a roster filled with players rated 4 and 5-Star prospects coming out of their high school careers.
Is the playing field about to be slanted to favor Bama across the board?
Now, we are beginning to see the last stage of grief among rival fans.
1) Denial: From "Nick Saban won't coach at Alabama" to "Nick Saban can't bring in the talent he did at LSU."
2) Anger: From "he's a liar" to "Can you believe they are paying him that much money to coach football?"
3) Bargaining: "It was a down year in the SEC." Or more recently, "No way can Saban lead another Alabama team to an undefeated regular season."
4) Depression: "The best class in college football last year" and "now he's gone and done it, again?"
The numbers don't lie.
They reflect one fact; Alabama has as many highly rated prospects on their roster than any other team in the SEC: in the NCAA for that matter, save one in Pasadena.
If you look at the last two recruiting classes, using the ratings provided by Rivals.com, here's the end result.
What you see is a level playing field.
What you see is a team, one found in Tuscaloosa, that can place itself side by side with any other team in the nation in terms of talent.
Now, what's left, is player development that falls squarely on the abilities of a head coach and his staff.