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Championship Recruiting: Alabama

The Tide are making their 6th national title game appearance under Nick Saban. Recruiting is the primary reason.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In 2007, it was reportedly said by Nick Saban to his new boss, former Alabama AD Mal Moore: “I’m a bullshit coach, but no one’s ever going to out-recruit me.”

Obviously, Saban was grossly underselling his value as both an “Xs and Os” strategist and manager of people because you can have all the talent in the world around you, and without a mechanism in place to harness it, what the hell difference does it make?

Still, there was something next-level prescient about this self evaluation.

Seldom in the last eleven seasons has anyone truly out-recruited Saban during his time in Tuscaloosa. In fact, the 2018 cycle will most likely be Alabama’s first since 2010 that they’re not at the top of the recruiting rankings.

That is an absurd run for any program which goes to show Saban’s single-mindedness in evaluating, recruiting and obtaining the players he feels fits his scheme best.

No one out-recruited him.

So, for this reason, it’s interesting, in hindsight (and for Monday), to look at the six Alabama teams under Saban that have made it to the national championship game.

The last three have been consecutive, which, once again, goes to show you how unprecedented a run this has been.

As it has in the past, Bud Elliott’s battle-tested “Blue Chip Ratio” will allow us to delve deeper into the talent pool of Saban’s championship teams (and the one that almost was) and how that pool changed with each successive championship game appearance.

The 247Sports Recruiting Composite will be the reference point for the players listed below.

Note: This will only be a look at the primary participants on each side of the ball and no situational players. An asterisk denotes a transfer into the program and bold denotes a permanent captain.


2009 (14-0, BCS Championship Win Over Texas)

Offense

QB: Greg McElroy (3-star)

RB: Mark Ingram (4-star)

WR: Julio Jones (5-star)

WR: Marquis Maze (3-star)

TE: Preston Dial (3-star)

TE: Colin Peek (3-star)*

LT: James Carpenter (4-star)*

LG: Mike Johnson (4-star)

C: William Vlachos (3-star)

RG: Barrett Jones (4-star)

RT: Drew Davis (2-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 5:6

Defense

DE: Brandon Deaderick (3-star)

DT: Terrence Cody (3-star)*

DE: Lorenzo Washington (4-star)*

“Sam” LB: Courtney Upshaw (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Rolando McClain (4-star)

“Will” LB: Cory Reamer (3-star)

“Jack” LB: Eryk Anders (2-star)

CB: Javier Arenas (3-star)

FS: Justin Woodall (4-star)

SS: Mark Barron (4-star)

CB: Kareem Jackson (3-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 5:6

Total: 10:12

Analysis: This is quite possibly Nick Saban’s masterpiece and it was only his second national title. As you’ll see, that blue chip ratio total will flip significantly from his first appearance with Alabama to last season’s.

What’s most impressive about Saban’s one and only undefeated team is he was using primarily Mike Shula recruits in their final seasons while padding it with recruits of his own. 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Barrett Jones and Courtney Upshaw were just a few of the sophomores who started on this team.

For some reason, the combination of blue chip talent and athletes playing above their initial rankings made this a truly great team. There were the ones sold on a dream and the ones who didn’t know a dream existed.

This was a Saban team played by mostly Shula talent and it worked very well.


2011 (12-1, BCS Championship Win Over LSU)

Offense

QB: AJ McCarron (4-star)

RB: Trent Richardson (5-star)

WR: Marquis Maze (3-star)

WR: Darius Hanks (3-star)

TE: Michael Williams (4-star)

TE: Brad Smelley (3-star)

LT: Barrett Jones (4-star)

LG: Chance Warmack (3-star)

C: William Vlachos (3-star)

RG: Alfred McCullough (3-star)

RT: DJ Fluker (5-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 5:6

Defense

DE: Jesse Williams (4-star)

DT: Josh Chapman (3-star)

DE: Damion Square (4-star)

“Sam” LB: Jerrell Harris (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Dont’a Hightower (4-star)

“Will” LB: Nico Johnson (5-star)

“Jack” LB: Courtney Upshaw (4-star)

CB: Dre Kirkpatrick (5-star)

SS: Mark Barron (4-star)

FS: Robert Lester (3-star)

CB: DeQuan Menzie (4-star)*

Blue Chip Ratio: 9:2

Total: 14:8

Analysis: This is where the Nick Saban Machine truly begins to take hold.

The ratio has now flipped and, consequently, the 2011 squad is widely viewed as Saban’s most dominant (namely on defense) despite the “Game of the Century” loss to LSU and the lack of conference or division titles.

What made this team so great was the retention of talent on the defensive side of the ball from 2010. The only player they lost was defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and they were properly able to compensate with the addition of Australian JUCO transfer Jesse Williams.

You see Saban addressing every need of his team and placing them into his system.

The two matchups between Alabama and LSU in 2011 are widely viewed as the greatest collection of talent on one field.

An upcoming championship game may have something to say about that.

Also of note, this was Jim McElwain’s final season as offensive coordinator at Alabama. Thusly, you will soon see a phasing out of the two tight end system that the Tide were known for at this time.


2012 (13-1, BCS Championship Win Over Notre Dame)

Offense

QB: AJ McCarron (4-star)

RB: Eddie Lacy (4-star)

WR: Kevin Norwood (4-star)

WR: Amari Cooper (4-star)

TE: Michael Williams (4-star)

TE: Kelly Johnson (w/o)

LT: Cyrus Kouandjio (5-star)

LG: Chance Warmack (3-star)

C: Barrett Jones (4-star)

RG: Anthony Steen (3-star)

RT: DJ Fluker (5-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 8:3

Defense

DE: Ed Stinson (4-star)

DT: Jesse Williams (4-star)

DE: Damion Square (4-star)

“Sam” LB: Adrian Hubbard (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Trey DePriest (5-star)

“Will” LB: CJ Mosley (4-star)

“Jack” LB: Xzavier Dickson (4-star)

CB: Dee Milliner (5-star)

SS: Robert Lester (3-star)

FS: HaHa Clinton-Dix (5-star)

CB: Deion Belue (3-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 9:2

Total: 17:5

The lone mark on this Alabama squad was the 29-24 loss to a burgeoning Texas A&M team and its eventual Heisman-winning quarterback.

Otherwise, the best examples of this team’s dominance were its bookend victories over Michigan and Notre Dame. The latter victory would go down in the annals of championship beatdowns.

With a 17:5 Blue Chip Ratio across both units, Alabama was able to win with stellar secondary play and a generational offensive line that paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers.

AJ McCarron was in full control of his gifts at the quarterback position by then, Amari Cooper was a precocious true freshman, thrust into action after DeAndrew White went down with a knee injury and linebacker CJ Mosley’s sideline-to-sideline abilities became the prototype for Saban’s middle linebackers going forward.

For the second season in a row, the defense finished #1 in every major statistical category and Doug Nussmeier’s offense is Alabama’s second most prolific of the Saban era.

2012 was also the last time UGA and Bama played each other with a championship on the line.


2015 (14-1, CFP Championship Win Over Clemson)

Offense

QB: Jake Coker (3-star)*

RB: Derrick Henry (5-star)

WR: Calvin Ridley (5-star)

WR: ArDarius Stewart (4-star)

WR: Richard Mullaney (3-star)*

TE: OJ Howard (5-star)

LT: Cam Robinson (5-star)

LG: Ross Pierschbacher (4-star)

C: Ryan Kelly (3-star)

RG: Alphonse Taylor (3-star)

RT: Dominick Jackson (4-star)*

Blue Chip Ratio: 8:3

Defense

DE: Jarran Reed (3-star)*

DT: Darren Lake (3-star)

DE: A’Shawn Robinson (5-star)

“Sam” LB: Dillon Lee (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Reggie Ragland (4-star)

“Will” LB: Reuben Foster (5-star)

“Jack” LB: Denzel Devall (4-star)

CB: Marlon Humphrey (5-star)

SS: Eddie Jackson (3-star)

FS: Geno Matias-Smith (4-star)

CB: Cyrus Jones (4-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 8:3

Total: 16:6

Analysis: Obviously, this is not taking into account situational players like Jonathan Allen (5-star), Tim Williams (4-star) and Ryan Anderson (4-star) who made the Tide’s pass rush its most potent under Nick Saban.

Or freshmen defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick (5-star) and Ronnie Harrison (4-star) and the help they provided in shoring up an occasionally-leaky secondary.

This was Saban’s first championship team that had a cadre of former blue chip prospects that were 50/50 participants, but made the best of their time on the field.

Of course, there was former 5-star Derrick Henry’s Heisman-winning, record-breaking season. As a matter of fact, the sheer volume of carries Henry received in 2015 most likely convinced Saban that the offense would be splitting carries between 2-3 running backs, which is how it’s been the last two seasons.

Jake Coker was the pleasant surprise, here. He was never asked to do too much (this was Henry’s show), but he carried the team in victory and defeat.

The Tide’s last national title under Nick Saban is often viewed as his best. It would’ve been easily surpassed. There was a rematch lurking, however.


2016 (14-1, CFP Championship Loss to Clemson)

Offense

QB: Jalen Hurts (4-star)

RB: Bo Scarbrough (5-star)

WR: Calvin Ridley (5-star)

WR: ArDarius Stewart (4-star)

WR: Gehrig Dieter (no star rating found)*

TE: OJ Howard (5-star)

LT: Cam Robinson (5-star)

LG: Ross Pierschbacher (4-star)

C: Bradley Bozeman (3-star)

RG: Korren Kirven (4-star)

RT: Jonah Williams (5-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 9:2

Defense

DE: Dalvin Tomlinson (4-star)

DT: Da’Ron Payne (5-star)

DE: Jonathan Allen (5-star)

“Sam” LB: Ryan Anderson (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Reuben Foster (5-star)

“Will” LB: Rashaan Evans (5-star)

“Jack” LB: Tim Williams (4-star)

CB: Marlon Humphrey (5-star)

SS: Minkah Fitzpatrick (5-star)

FS: Ronnie Harrison (4-star)

CB: Anthony Averett (4-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 11:0

Total: 20:2

Analysis: This was to be Saban’s best team and most likely Alabama’s best were it not for a drive lasting all of two-and-a-half minutes that gave then #2 Clemson its first national title since 1980.

Just look at the sheer star power, here.

There is nary a former 3-star on the defense (in all fairness, Eddie Jackson went out with an injury earlier in the season) and the offense is crammed with blue chip talent.

All told, TEN out of the 22 players on the first team were former 5-stars. You cannot begin to comprehend the balance deficit that Alabama has enjoyed in recruiting these last eight years.

Georgia will benefit greatly from this over the next 5-10 years as well, by the way.

The 2016 Alabama defense had underperformed against Clemson, but had the game ended with Jalen Hurts’ touchdown, there’s no doubt that talking heads are calling this Alabama’s greatest defense.

It, also, didn’t seem to be fair that former Bama OC Lane Kiffin was employing a Gus Malzahn-style RPO offense to go along with it.

To date, this is Nick Saban’s most talented team at Alabama.


2017 (12-1, CFP Championship Matchup with Georgia)

Offense

QB: Jalen Hurts (4-star)

RB: Damien Harris (5-star)

WR: Calvin Ridley (5-star)

WR: Robert Foster (5-star)

WR: Cam Sims (4-star)

TE: Irv Smith, Jr. (3-star)

LT: Jonah Williams (5-star)

LG: Ross Pierschbacher (5-star)

C: Bradley Bozeman (3-star)

RG: JC Hassenauer (4-star)

RT: Matt Womack (3-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 8:3

Defense

DE: Raekwon Davis (4-star)

DT: Da’Ron Payne (5-star)

DE: Da’Shawn Hand (5-star)

“Sam” LB: Terrell Lewis (4-star)

“Mike” LB: Mack Wilson (5-star)

“Will” LB: Rashaan Evans (5-star)

“Jack” LB: Jamey Mosley (w/o)

CB: Levi Wallace (w/o)

SS: Minkah Fitzpatrick (5-star)

FS: Ronnie Harrison (4-star)

CB: Anthony Averett (4-star)

Blue Chip Ratio: 9:2

Total: 17:5

Analysis: If Alabama is able to pull this off on Monday, then 2017 could end up being Nick Saban’s masterpiece.

This isn’t his most talented team. Down the stretch, it was wildly inconsistent.

Still, the shuffling around that Saban and his staff had to do in the wake of SEVEN injuries at the linebacker position alone (Shaun Dion Hamilton was the defense’s play caller this season) and to a host of others including Minkah Fitzpatrick, Da’Shawn Hand and Lester Cotton has turned the season into a Copperfield-level magic trick.

You can’t deny a certain universal juju in former walk-on-turned-star-corner Levi Wallace. He leads the team with 14 PBUs, is second in INTs with 3, has 45 tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Wallace is the best cover corner on a team of unit filled to the brim with former 4 and 5-star recruits.

That’s the story of this 2017 squad.


Monday’s going to be an obvious tester for this team. Fitzpatrick, the defense’s best player, isn’t close to being 100% and they’re currently on their 3rd “Mike” linebacker in Wilson.

Georgia, on the other hand, is rocking a 18:4 Blue Chip Ratio, currently, and have little to no significant injuries.

The Dawgs match the Tide at almost every single position, so we’ll see if Alabama can finish the way they so desperately wanted to last season.

The Tide’s dynastic rule is still alive and well and it will continue to be as long as you see the level of talent at every position Saban and his staff have acquired since 2007.