-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
National Signing Day 2012 is two days away.
As usual, the flip-flopping fireworks should provide plenty of entertainment for recruitniks and college football fans alike. But while fans bases all across the fruited plain await the vital decisions from Athlon Consensus 100 recruits like Dorial Green-Beckham, Stefon Diggs, Arik Armstead and Eddie Goldman, fans in Austin and Tuscaloosa have their sights set on a slightly bigger prize.
Barring some unforeseen prospect Armageddon, the 2012 Athlon Sports National Recruiting Championship will be given to either the Crimson Tide or the Longhorns.
Mack Brown, who recently was given a contract extension through 2020, and the Texas Longhorns have set a new benchmark for early commitments. Twelve of Brown’s current 26-man class committed before March of 2011, and he has had to hold onto his future stars for nearly a full year. With the exception of AC100 wideout Thomas Johnson, the coaching staff in Austin has kept the core of the 2012 class completely intact. It is a testament to the power of the Burnt Orange brand in the state of Texas.
Texas is currently leading the nation with 16 “national” commitments (a player who is ranked in the top 150 by at least one service) and is second in the country with six AC100 verbals. The Horns boast two of the top-10 players in the nation in tailback Jonathan Gray and defensive tackle Malcom Brown. It marks the second year in a row that Brown has signed the nation’s No. 1 running back (Malcolm Brown, 2011). This is a balanced and versatile class with four stellar “athletes,” a group headlined by AC100 newcomer Kendall Sanders. Senator Brown, as usual, has added elite depth to virtually every position on his roster.
That said, Signing Day shouldn’t bring too much movement for the Longhorns’ class with the exception of one very big name, although Burnt Orange fans picked up some good news this weekend with commitments from four-star Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson defensive back Daje Johnson and three-star Van (Texas) three-star Dalton Santos. Green-Beckham is the No. 1 player in the nation, and five teams will be holding their breath on Wednesday when the Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wideout signs his name. Texas, Arkansas and Missouri are the only schools that received an official visit, giving Texas a great shot to pull the upset. If Brown wants to claim the No. 1 class in the nation, landing DGB will be imperative.
That is because Nick Saban’s bunch is the team to beat.
Not only can the Tide show off their flashy new BCS Crystal Ball, but the mythical recruiting title will only ensure Alabama’s continued success into the near future. The Tide's 2008 — which was Athlon’s No. 1-ranked group — and 2009 classes both landed in the top three nationally and were the reason Alabama claimed the 2011 BCS National Championship. Fifteen of the Crimson Tide’s 22 BCS game starters signed in either 2008 or 2009. And the 2012 haul could be a phenomenal foundation for yet another title run in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama currently leads the nation with 10 AC100 commitments, is second behind Texas with 14 national verbal pledges and is ranked No. 1 in the team rankings by all four major recruiting services heading into NSD. While Bama lacks a top-10 recruit like the Horns’ Gray-Brown duo, Saban can point to a much longer list of potential NSD targets than Texas. Green-Beckham has Bama in his final five, but Alabama is considered a long shot. However, landing the country’s top defensive tackle, Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate’s Eddie Goldman, would likely sew up the recruiting national title for the Tide.
Fellow AC100 prospects Tracy Howard and Kwon Alexander could also land at Alabama. It appears, however, that Howard, the No. 18-rated player in the nation, will choose between Florida and LSU. The Gators are the team to beat with the Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar prospect. Alxander, from Oxford (Ala.), is ranked as the No. 82 player in the AC100 and will pick between Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
Saban has other names in mind that would likely wrap up the 2012 NSD championship as well. Nationally ranked Korren Kriven and Dalvin Tomlinson would also be enough to crown this Alabama haul as the best in the nation. Sitting at 10 AC100 commitments, the Tide does have a chance, albeit a long one, to potentially set or tie the all-time record for AC100 signees in one class. Should Saban pull the clean sweep — meaning Green-Beckham, Goldman, Howard and Alexander — he would set a new record with 14 AC100 signees. Urban Meyer and the Gators signed a record 13 such recruits in 2010.
Speaking of the Gators, and barring unprecedented miracle work from Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Will Muschamp is really the only coach who can challenge Brown or Saban for national recruiting supremacy this week. There are 22 AC100 prospects left uncommitted as of today, and Florida is listed as a finalist for at least seven of them. Top-10 athlete Stefon Diggs, along with Howard, linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, offensive tackle Kyle Murphy, speedy play-maker Nelson Agholor, big blocker Avery Young and defensive end Leonard Williams could all pick the Gators.
While it’s extremely unlikely that the Gators pull all seven AC100 names, Muschamp is assured to land at least a couple and will likely be one of the bigger stories on NSD. Diggs, Howard and Agholor are all ranked in the top 26 nationally, and all three appear to be headed to Gainesville. Should those three names pop for Florida, the Gators would claim five of the top-26 prospects in the nation (D.J. Humphries, Jonathan Bullard). The Gators are the only team in the nation as hot as the aforementioned Buckeyes on the recruiting trail. (Hmm, what do those two schools have in common?)
That said, the Gators are a long-shot to compete for the recruiting crown. In fact, it would be an upset if anyone other than Alabama claims the trophy. Even if the Tide misses out on Green-Beckham, Goldman and Alexander, it could still claim the national recruiting title by simply clinging to its current 27-man group. It would likely take Saban losing a recruit or two (looking at you Landon Collins) while Texas lands DGB to push the Horns to the top slot. And the odds of Saban not pulling off at least one upset is slim-to-none.
All signs point to Alabama claiming its second recruiting national title of the Saban era.