Nick Saban's reputation as a tireless and relentless recruiter has fueled Alabama's historic run over the past five years.
Before Alabama’s football team prepares for a run at a three-peat on the field this fall, Nick Saban and his staff are days away from accomplishing that same feat on the recruiting trail.
While Saban has mastered the player development phase as a part of his famed “process,” his true genius is outworking and outclassing the rest of the nation on the recruiting trail.
Because that is where the Tide’s current dynasty has been cultivated.
The Tide’s streak of three national titles in the past four seasons began with an epic 2008 recruiting class featuring the likes of Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Mark Barron and Barrett Jones, amongst others. That run has continued over the past two seasons—with at least one service (Rivals in 2011 and 247Sports in 2012) tabbing Alabama’s recruiting hauls as the nation’s best.
With this being the last weekend until national signing day, the latter of those two services has the Tide’s 2013 group on top once again—with a three-peat in sight considering the handful of elite prospects that could pick Alabama on Wednesday.
Taking a look at the national title-winning squads in 2009, 2011 and last season, Saban’s constant labor in recruiting has been fruitful on the field.
The 2009 team still had its share of veteran players inherited from the Mike Shula era, but the 2008 class stalwarts mentioned above were all underclassmen that contributed heavily to the only unbeaten squad Saban has ever fielded.
The 2011 and 2012 teams had a mix of veterans (16 starters on the 2011 team came from the 2008 and 2009 classes) and freakish underclassmen (2012 team featured six starters that have come from the past two classes).
In addition to fielding a quality mix between veterans and impact newcomers, Saban has cherry-picked the JUCO ranks almost flawlessly.
Even at a school that has had little trouble luring the best prep prospects, Saban has been able to find mature talents that were needed to step in and contribute from day one on campus.
Players like James Carpenter (2009 class), DeQuan Menzie (2010), Jesse Williams (2011) and Deion Belue (2012) have all come in and become immediate starters and contributors to championship clubs.
While Saban has been heavily criticized for methods like oversigning and grayshirting, no one can argue that he gets the players in his system—whether it’s a 5-star player or a former walk-on—to reach their maximum potential without sacrificing his team’s goals (h/t, Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated).
With the 2013 class sitting on 21 commitments (plus a grayshirt in offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman), the Tide have already met a majority of their needs from a talent and quantity standpoint.
The 2013 class appears to have the proper balance between potential instant impact players (running back Derrick Henry, JUCO transfer and offensive lineman Leon Brown and tight end O.J. Howard, for example) and players that can thrive in a niche role.
Regardless of how the rankings end up, this class has Saban’s fingerprints all over it—and like mostly everything he’s touched recently, the end result will likely have Alabama fans celebrating another title on Wednesday.