If you think football in the Southeastern Conference is just a game that generates a ton of money for the schools and the NCAA that regulates it in a highly publicized environment, you do not understand what success is about in the SEC.
SEC games are not battles between teams, they are outright warfare with a fight to the last man standing won by heavy artillery (talent). That is why Wednesday's (2-6-08) first day of signing letters of intent by high school seniors was so significant. According to several analysts, Nick Saban and Alabama ranked No. 1 with the nation's best class of talent.
Among Rivals.com Top 50 prospects, Alabama picked up No. 4 Julio Jones, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver from Foley (AL); No. 28 BJ Scott, a 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver-super athlete from Vigor (AL); No. 30 Tyler Love, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive lineman from Mountain Brook (AL); No. 34 Jerrell Harris, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker from Gadsden (AL); and No. 35 Alonzo Lawrence, a 6-foot-1, 190 pound defensive back from George County (MS).
Add to that distinguished list No. 55 Mark Barron, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete from Mobile (AL) and No. 60 Barrett Jones, a 6-foot-5, 271-pound offensive lineman from Memphis (TN), and no school in America had 7 of the Top 60 Rival.com prospects except Alabama.
Southern Cal had 6 in the Top 60, Ohio State had 5 and Notre Dame had 5. Notre Dame's recruiting class was rated No. 2 by Rivals.com, Ohio State's No. 8 and Southern California's No. 10.
Nick Saban, the highest paid college coach at about $ 4 million a year, earned his pay. Saban was able to sign 7 of the top 11 prospects in Alabama. Auburn did not have a single recruit among Rivals.com Top 100 prospects; the Tigers came up sucking pond water.
Look for Saban and the Crimson Tide to start a concerted march to a higher place as a current Division 1A powerhouse and national title contender. Should the Top 60 picks stay injury free and reach their potential on the college turf, they will most certainly be playing in the NFL on Sundays.
If you are not stoked about Alabama football you need to live in another state.
Three other schools catch my personal attention because I have ties to Washington, Arizona State and Michigan State.
Ty Willingham's Washington Huskies had the highest Rivals.com pick among these 3 teams with No. 57 Kavario Middleton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end from Lakewood (WA). Middleton was joined by his teammate, Jermaine Kearse, a 6-foot-2, 175 pound wide receiver.
Washington also signed Everrette Thompson, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound defensive end from Burien (WA); Alameda Ta'amu, a 6-foot-4, 330-pound (yes, 330 pounds!) Offensive guard from Seattle; Allen Carroll, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive guard from Oakland (CA); Chris Polk, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound running back with 4.5 speed from Redlands (CA); and Jordan Polk, 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver with 4.46 speed from Portland (OR).
Washington's catch is being called the best recruiting class since Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick in 2001.
The Huskies also picked up some speed with linebacker Kurt Mangum (4.59), cornerbacks Adam Long (4.45), Anthony Gobern (4.4) and Justin Glenn (4.5), safety Johri Fogerson (4.55), and running backs Demitrius Bronson (4.5) and david Freeman (4.4). Let me be the first to dub Kurt Magnum as Magnum PI (Personal Intimidator) and Demitrius Bronson as Death Wish Bronson.
All of this comes as a surprise as Ty Willingham, unlike Nick Saban, does not have a rep as a recruiter. The fact that redstart freshman quarterback Jake Locker started last year and impressed almost everyone with his agility, speed and savvy probably did not hurt a lick.
Scout.com rated Washington's recruiting class as the 14th best among the NCAA's 119 Division 1A schools. Look for the Huskies to finally win more games than they lose next year. If they do not, Willingham may be looking for another job.
Scout.com rated Dennis Erickson and his Arizona State Sun Devils class as the 17th best nationally. Among Erickson's top prospects was Jack Elway, none other than the son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.
Jack Elway has his father's arm but apparently not his speed. Nonetheless, he comes from an excellent gene pool. In addition to his dad, his mother Janet was an outstanding college athlete as a swimmer for Stanford University.
Here are two facts you may not know about John Elway. 1) He may have played football at Stanford University but he was born and raised in Port Angeles (WA). 2) He had 47 career game-winning or game-tying drives in the 4th quarter, an NFL record.
Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State Spartans (my alma mater, Class of 1966) did not fare as well as Washington or Arizona State. Other than any local coverage in Michigan and a little among Big Ten teams, the Spartans received zero national attention.
That tells me they ended up with the short end of stick, and that is indeed bad news.
Dantonio knows that Jim Tressel and his Ohio State Buckeyes are only going to get better; Dantonio was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State's undefeated (14-0) national championship team in 2002. Tressel also won 4 Division 1AA national championships at Youngstown State, and his won-loss record as head coach at Ohio State is a stunning 83% ( 73-15).
If Ohio State is not enough competition for Michigan State, Michigan will cause the Spartans headaches as well since Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach the Wolverines next year.
Michigan has won more games than any other team in college football history, and now along comes Rodriguez, who spent 7 seasons at West Virginia compiling a 60-26 record (69%) with 4 Big East titles.
Rodriguez, 1 of only 2 Hispanic head coaches in Division IA football, went 32-5 (86%) his last 3 years at West Virginia. Rodriguez is great for Michigan; for Michigan State he is two legs and bad news. The Spartans may get the snot kicked out of them by Michigan for the next 5 years.
I am praying that Dantonio can find a couple of nuggets among the scrap heap of players that are left over after all of the good programs have used up their scholarship allotments. The Spartans need talent and speed immediately, they do not have nearly enough at the moment.
The justified enthusiasm among Crimson Tide fans at Alabama does need to be tempered by the knowledge that recruiting is not an exact science. While we know that the sun will come up tomorrow, we do not know how these recruits will play out.
What we do know is that coaching can make average players better; Rich Rodriguez is an example. His recent West Virginia recruiting classes were rated mid-30s to mid-50s yet he led the Mountaineers to 2 BCS bowl wins in the last 3 seasons, and he came within 1 win of playing for last year's national title.
We also know that a position player like a quarterback, who touches the ball on every play, can make a team much better. An example this year was Todd Reesing of Kansas who led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory. Reesing was rated a 2-star to 3-star player by the rating services (5 stars is best) yet he became a 5-star player when given the opportunity to do so.
Since many of these kids will become redshirts (meaning they will not play their freshman year) and become redshirt freshman (like Jake Locker of Washington) when they start playing their sophomore year. It may take all of 5 years to determine who among the many players just signed will become tomorrow's stars and NFL draftees.
In the meantime, I will be praying for Mark Dantonio and my Michigan State Spartans. I view myself as an important intercessor as the Spartans have continued to disappoint in recent years. Wherever they have been I do not want to go.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley