It’s no secret that Alabama has dominated the recruiting landscape since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have finished outside of the top three of the RecruitingNation class rankings only once since Saban took over for Mike Shula in 2007 -- and that came in his first year when he had only two months to put together a recruiting class.
More recently, Alabama has assembled four consecutive No. 1-ranked classes and is currently ranked No. 5 in the country with several months to go until signing day. While the Crimson Tide continues to recruit at an extremely high level, other SEC teams are quietly pushing to take over the top class in the country.
As it stands, there are six SEC West teams and three SEC East teams in the top 25 of the class rankings, including four in the top 10. LSU currently leads the conference with the No. 2-ranked class, just behind Ohio State. The Tigers' class is led by ESPN 300 prospects Edwin Alexander, Saivion Smith and Elite 11 QB Feleipe’ Franks.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, is nipping at Alabama’s heels with the seventh-ranked class in the country. The Rebels class includes a commitment from the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country, Shea Patterson, and five-star defensive tackle Benito Jones.
With so many top classes, Alabama has accumulated a lot of depth, a crowded scenario that has benefited other conference schools. Increased talent in certain states (Louisiana has 20 ESPN 300 prospects this year, 14 last year) and different recruiting strategies have also helped SEC teams. One key factor, however could be the true catalyst -- other SEC teams are starting to consistently win.
ESPN 300 linebacker Ben Davis, who is considering teams like Auburn, Alabama and Georgia, believes recruits want to go to winning programs.
“I think teams are doing a lot better job nowadays and they are finding different ways and methods to recruit prospects,” Davis said. “More importantly though, I think that seeing success in a program helps recruiting a lot, because players want to go to a winning program and want to contribute. I know I do. So most definitely having success throughout the season helps colleges gain more recruits and more talent.”
While Davis believes the success of other programs are a reason teams are gaining on Alabama, Patterson -- the highest rated quarterback to commit to Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze -- believes that the rise of other teams is a product of Alabama's success.
"I think it has helped other teams tremendously," Patterson said of Alabama's recruiting success. "Alabama set the base for recruiting in the SEC and that has opened up the opportunity for other teams in the SEC to get top-notch talent as well. But the rise of Ole Miss and Auburn and other schools has evened it out quite a bit now throughout the conference."
Ole Miss has started to reap the benefits of its 2013 class that landed Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Tony Conner. The Rebels finished with an 8-5 record in 2013, a 9-4 record last year and are 2-0 this year after two impressive performances to start the season. Auburn, meanwhile, has been one of the top programs in the country since Gus Malzhan took over, and LSU and Georgia have always been near the top 10 over the last several seasons. Mississippi State gained traction after last season’s meteoric rise to No. 1 in the polls and a Capital One Orange Bowl berth.
The rise of Auburn has helped even out the playing field in the state of Alabama. Just recently the Tigers landed a commitment from Marlon Davidson, the 37th-ranked prospect in the ESPN 300. Alabama and Auburn are also battling it out over other in-state prospects such as Davis and Lyndell “Mack” Wilson.
When the No. 2-ranked player in the country, Greg Little, backed off his pledge to Texas A&M over the summer, many believed he was headed for Alabama. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound prospect, however, is still heavily considering Auburn and Ole Miss and his recruitment may come down to the wire.
As long as Saban is still the coach, Alabama will continue to win its fair share of recruiting battles and be among the top recruiting teams in the country, but there isn’t a glaring gap as in years past. A big win at Alabama this Saturday would certainly give a big boost to Ole Miss in recruiting. A win for the Crimson Tide, though, could help signal that Alabama is not quite ready to give up its recruiting crown.