This weekend’s matchup between No. 1 Alabama and Kentucky features two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions—at least on the field.
However, despite the Wildcats—who are 1-4 this season—entering this contest as heavy underdogs, first-year head coach Mark Stoops has brought a jolt of energy to Big Blue Nation because of his ability to find success on the recruiting trail.
That’s what makes the game against Alabama—the biggest juggernaut in college football and in recruiting—a huge opportunity for Stoops and his quest to win over a fanbase and administration known for its passion in basketball.
Even though recruiting is somewhat in the background during the season, big home games are usually treated as a showcase for a school’s top targets to come and visit in the fall. Such is the case for Stoops, who will welcome a handful of prospects for this weekend’s tilt against the Tide.
Nick Saban is likely to have an interest in one particular visitor expected to take in this weekend’s festivities inside Commonwealth Stadium.
According to Charles Power of BamaOnline (subscription required), 5-star defensive tackle Matt Elam—an Elizabethtown, Ky. native—will be on hand to watch two of the presumed favorites to land his signature in February.
As Power notes, Elam is clearly a top priority for Saban and his staff, and the 6’6”, 350-pounder says that he talks to Saban and Tide assistant Lance Thompson “more than any coaching staff.”
Coach Saban and Coach Thompson talk to me all the time about how they’re kind of low on d-tackles and nose guards right now. They said they feel like I could come in and play early. That’s not something you always see at Alabama. They’re playing a lot of young guys now and I want to go to a program and play early.
For the Crimson Tide, landing Elam would be a luxury. Alabama already has 21 commitments and its class is comfortably resting atop the 247Sports 2014 class rankings. Kentucky—long considered a cellar dweller in the rugged SEC—is sitting respectably at No. 16 on the list.
On the other hand, Elam is the type of recruit that can be a program-changer for the Wildcats. He’s the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country and the Commonwealth state’s top recruit. For Stoops, getting Elam to stay in-state would send a strong signal to other top recruits that Kentucky is capable of getting things turned around under his leadership.
Considering what Ole Miss was able to do last season in landing a consensus top-10 recruiting class, landing Elam could help jump-start a resurgence for Kentucky similar to what the Rebels were able to do under Hugh Freeze.
Kentucky—who has been competitive in three losses to ranked foes Louisville, Florida and South Carolina—can really make an impression on prospects like Elam by hanging with the two-time defending national champions.
For Alabama, it’s business as usual with Kentucky being just another team standing in the Tide’s way of competing for another national title.
No matter a school’s stature, recruiting serves as the lifeblood of every program. That makes games like Saturday night’s matchup in Commonwealth Stadium critical to the futures of both the Crimson Tide and the Wildcats.