Alabama finds itself in unfamiliar territory, rated No. 7 nationally in 247Sports composite class rankings less than two weeks away from national signing day. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has claimed five consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes in Tuscaloosa, but at this stage, odds seem to be against his extending that streak to six straight No. 1 hauls.
That outlook could drastically change if Alabama is able to secure premier in-state prospects Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, though. The 5-star linebackers, considered two of America's most prized uncommitted defensive recruits, both include the Crimson Tide on their short lists of collegiate options.
Davis, No. 1 among inside linebackers and No. 10 overall in 2016 composite rankings, spent his Gordo High School career a short drive away from campus. His father, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time career tackles leader.
"I have a strong relationship with Alabama because of my dad and growing up pretty close to campus, but there's a long way to go in this process, and it's about finding where I feel most comfortable," he told Bleacher Report in April.
Now, nine months later, Davis is still sorting through possibilities. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame seem to be the last teams standing in this pursuit, while past interest in Ole Miss, Michigan, USC and Florida State fell behind along the way.
"I need to feel in my gut which school is the best fit," Davis told Bleacher Report. "Just be real with myself about which is truly the best opportunity."
Less than 10 days shy of national signing day, the school out in front is the one most analysts expected since the start of Davis' recruitment.
Alabama, claiming 100 percent of experts' predictions in 247Sports' crystal ball, is a stride ahead of other contenders with the finish line in sight following his latest—and official—visit to Tuscaloosa.
"That's what it ultimately came down to, my visit," Davis told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "It was real good meeting some more of the guys...but seeing another side of it, it's always the athletic side but I got to see the academics and get some questions answered. It was real informative."
Despite obvious family ties to the program, he's always made it a point to mention his father isn't applying any pressure to follow in his footsteps.
"My dad will support whatever decision I make 110 percent," Davis told Bleacher Report. "He hasn't really pushed me toward one school or another. He just wants to make sure I'm comfortable with the situation wherever I go."
Davis will wrap up his travel itinerary with a final official visit to Auburn this weekend. New Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele previously recruited him on behalf of Alabama and LSU.
It's another example of how college football's coaching carousel can impact recruiting, as Steele and first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart invested time targeting both Davis and Wilson during their tenure at Alabama.
Smart, who served as Saban's defensive coordinator during four national championship runs, could ultimately provide the biggest obstacle for Alabama's bringing both heralded linebackers to campus this year.
Davis, who was highly impressed during a midseason official visit to Georgia, reacted to the Bulldogs' regime change with immediate approval.
"I think him being at Georgia is a really great thing because he is a great coach and will do a good job wherever he is at," the lauded defender told Bleacher Report. "Me and Coach Smart have a great relationship."
Earlier this month, Davis told Champlin that Georgia and Alabama "are kind of sharing No. 1." However, Alabama has inched ahead following his official visit.
Wilson and Davis have shared several common destinations during their official visit schedules, traveling alongside each other multiple times. The duo got up close and personal with the reigning king of college football last weekend:
#RollTide 🐘 w/ my bro @bendavis_1 https://t.co/7kmIBISe7o1/24/2016, 4:51:00 PM
"Mack is my dude. ... He's been talking with me about playing together all the time, but we'll see how it goes," Davis told Bleacher Report during his senior season.
At this late stage, Georgia and Alabama appear to be the only schools where Davis and Wilson would unite. Wilson, a Carver High School (Montgomery, Alabama) standout rated No. 2 among outside linebackers and No. 15 overall in 2016 composite rankings, is also focused on Florida.
He will wrap up travel plans with an official visit to Gainesville this weekend. The Gators already gathered two commitments from the Birmingham area, including one from Wilson's teammate Antonio Nelson.
Despite having serious interest in both Florida and Georgia, Wilson may have a hard time telling Saban he's heading out of the state after his most recent Alabama visit:
Dreams slowly coming true . 🙏🏾 https://t.co/cjoi0YcXRG1/24/2016, 5:37:43 PM
“I just enjoy anytime getting to talk to Coach Saban,” Wilson told Luke Stampini of 247Sports. “We just enjoy each other and have fun. Riding golf carts at Coach Saban’s house and going to the lake and stuff, it was fun.”
Smart again plays a pivotal role here, as he pursued Wilson to Alabama just a few weeks ago. His hiring at Georgia quickly commanded Wilson's attention and set the stage for an official visit earlier this month.
“Me and coach Smart, we have a great relationship,” he told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “That really kind of gave them a huge boost in my recruiting...[he is] like a father figure to me. I feel like I can talk to him about anything.”
Smart is clearly all-in when it comes to his former Tide targets, but his old boss could be difficult to top come signing day. Wilson is projected to sign with Alabama by 82 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports crystal ball.
"Coach Saban is fun to be around," Davis told Bleacher Report. "People who don't know him might not expect him to be like that. He's a cool guy to spend time with. But when it's time for business, he's about his business. He's one of the greatest."
Davis and Wilson were finalists for the Butkus Award, which is handed out annually to America's top high school linebacker. If any coaching staff is able to reel both prospects onto the same roster come signing day, it could set that program's defensive tone for years to come.
If any team can pull off this feat Feb. 3, look for Alabama to make the splash that could help prolong its status as a powerhouse defensive squad.
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