Last Monday's matchup between Alabama and LSU in the BCS championship game didn't contain nearly as much drama as a recruiting battle between the Crimson Tide and Tigers several days earlier.
On Jan. 5, Landon Collins of New Orleans went before ESPN cameras at the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. The nation's No. 1 safety according to ESPN and the No. 15 overall prospect according to Rivals.com thought for a moment and said, "I'm going to go with 'Roll Tide, roll.'"
His mother shook her head, and the ESPN reporter was quick to ask why.
"I feel LSU is a better place for him to be," she said. "LSU Tigers No. 1."
Should the Tigers go looking for sympathy after losing Collins to Alabama's rabid recruiting machine, they're going to discover they've got a lot of company. The Crimson Tide in December swiped running back T.J. Yeldon, a top-25 national prospect from Daphne, Ala., who had been committed to Auburn since June, and they also have a commitment from linebacker Dillon Lee of Buford, Ga.
Dillon's older brother, Dallas, was a starting guard for Georgia this past season until breaking his leg against Florida.
"What they're doing out of state is unbelievable," ESPN recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said of the Tide. "They're going into every SEC state and not just pulling great players but some of the very best, the top-rated guys. It's been impressive.
"People can say whatever they want about Nick Saban and Alabama, but at the end of the day they're doing it better than everyone else."
Alabama is closing in on Rivals.com's top-rated recruiting class nationally for a fourth time in five years. No program has landed four No. 1 classes in a five-year stretch, and such a run begins to defy logic. After all, won't some of these touted prospects start viewing Alabama as a tough place to find playing time?
"That's what everybody said about Florida State in the 1990s, and that's what everybody said about Southern Cal last decade," Newberg said, "and nine times out of 10 they still pulled those kids. Those guys are not afraid to go to Alabama and compete, and that's what you want. You want guys who are not afraid."
Saban's first season at Alabama in 2007 produced a 7-6 record, an embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a sixth straight setback against Auburn. Then came the first of the No. 1 signing classes, which contained tailback Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones, tight ends Brad Smelley and Michael Williams, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, defensive linemen Terrence Cody and Marcell Dareus, linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris, and safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester.
Since pulling in that '08 crop, Alabama is 48-6 with two BCS titles.
"I think the best way to put it is when you're getting recruited, you go around to a lot of different places and you hear every coach sitting in their office tell you that they're going to win a lot of games and you're going to be a big part of that," Barrett Jones said.
"When Coach Saban tells it to you, you believe him. He looks you in the eyes and says, 'We're going to win championships,' and he lays out a specific plan how he's going to do it. I think that's what guys buy into. I knew when he told me that we definitely were going to win championships, and that's what has happened. And another thing, he's very intense, but he also does joke around some. It's when you guys aren't looking. He is sometimes laid back and easy to talk to."
Alabama's recruiting has enabled the Crimson Tide to build a five-game winning streak over Tennessee, take three of four from Auburn and become the first team to beat Florida three straight years since the SEC went to divisional play in 1992. And for Tide foes, the end doesn't seem to be in sight.
Just before Collins committed to the Tide over LSU, Newberg asked him when he made up his mind.
"He said it was two years ago," Newberg said. "The impact Alabama had on recruits prior to this latest national championship run was felt long before they won in New Orleans, and that's why this national championship is going to impact the kids who are 13, 14, 15 and 16.
"It is a boulder that is running down the mountain, and there is nothing that is going to stop it."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...