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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Ranking Saban's signing classes at UA

By Alex Scarborough

From the moment Nick Saban stepped on campus, the recruiting game changed at the University of Alabama. Unburdened by the previous regime's bout with NCAA sanctions, Saban and the coaching staff set to the recruiting trail and began winning battles throughout the Southeast.

Alabama, previously on the outside looking in at the top 10 classes in the country, soon found itself owning the class rankings. From 2008 on, UA was the only school in the country to finish in the top three of the ESPN class rankings every year. If its No. 2 ranking holds during the next week and a half, that streak will be pushed to six straight years.

In that vein, TideNation set out to rank Saban's top recruiting classes since his arrival at Alabama in 2007. Based on class rankings and on-field production, here's how it looks:


No. 1: The class of 2008

Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram might be the keystone recruit for Alabama's success under Nick Saban.
Most valuable recruit: With all due respect to Julio Jones, the distinction belongs to Mark Ingram. Saban was able to persuade No. 12 running back in the ESPN 150 to come to Alabama all the way from Michigan State's backyard. He was the first domino in UA's march to becoming a national program. Since 2011, the top five prospects in each class have come from outside the state of Alabama.
Its case: To have a proper ranking of Saban's signing classes at Alabama, you have to start at the beginning. The 2008 class wasn't his first crop of recruits, but it was his first from top to bottom. The year before was just a warm up as he had less than a month on the job before signing day. With an entire year to navigate the recruiting trail, Saban and the coaching staff truly flexed its muscle, hauling in the No. 1 wide receiver in Julio Jones, the No. 1 athlete in Burton Scott and the No. 1 offensive tackle in Tyler Love. But the bottom half of the class is where the staff showed its skill in scouting players, getting commitments from the likes of Dont'a Hightower (No. 26 defensive end), Barrett Jones (No. 28 offensive tackle), Marcel Dareus (No. 39 defensive tackle) and Robert Lester (No. 39 safety).


No. 2: The class of 2009

Most valuable recruit: Based on long-term production, it has to be AJ McCarron. The former four-star prospect out of Mobile, Ala., could very well end up rewriting all the major passing records at Alabama when he finishes out his senior season. He's already won back-t0-back national championships and has an eye on a third.
Its case: If the 2008 class didn't appease your appetite for star athletes, the next year's class would. Alabama signed nine players in the ESPN 150, up from seven a year earlier, including future stars Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron, Chance Warmack and Eddie Lacy. Richardson came close to winning the Heisman Trophy and Warmack would come to be regarded as the top offensive lineman in the country. With Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and others entering their senior seasons in 2013, the true worth of the 2009 group is still to be determined.


No. 3: The class of 2012

Most valuable recruit: It's early, but the leaders in the clubhouse have to be wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon. The two became arguably the best tandem of true freshmen in the country in 2012, setting rookie records at Alabama. Cooper holds the freshman record for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns at UA. Meanwhile, Yeldon became the first rookie to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Its case: In terms of sheer talent, the 2012 class was the best. It's the only No. 1-ranked class of Saban's to date, and with good reason. Alabama inked 14 players that were ranked in the top 10 of their respective positions. Six of the top 35 prospects in the country faxed letters of intent to the Crimson Tide on signing day, including two five-stars in safety Landon Collins and athlete Eddie Williams. While it's still too early to judge the class' on-field production, early returns from Yeldon and Cooper are promising.


No. 4: The class of 2011

Most valuable recruit: Signing Cyrus Kouandjio was no easy task, but the former No. 1 offensive tackle in the ESPN 150 was well worth it. He's had the look of a future All-Pro since the minute he stepped foot on campus. Now that the likes of D.J. Fluker, Jones and Warmack are off to the NFL, it's Kouandjio's turn to step into the spotlight as Alabama's top offensive lineman.
Its case: Flipping Kouandjio from Auburn to Alabama was the cherry on top of an otherwise stellar class in 2011. Picking up the likes of Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Xzavier Dickson, Trey DePriest and Jeoffrey Pagan was a major boost to the depth of the defense as all four contributed to UA's championship run this past season. The Tide's 16 four- or five-star recruits was bested only by Florida State, the No. 1-ranked class that year.


No. 5: The class of 2007

Most valuable recruit: For Saban's defense to hum, he needed an All-American type linebacker. In Rolando McClain, he found one. The former No. 5-ranked inside linebacker was committed to Alabama well before Saban left the Dolphins for the Tide, and his commitment didn't waver after the coaching change became official.
Its case: Saban was behind the eight ball in 2007, having been on the job less than two months before signing day. While he couldn't lure any of the country's top prospects to Tuscaloosa in such a short time, he did have some success with the likes of Brandon Gibson, Marquis Maze and William Vlachos. Though the class would produce just one All-American (McClain), Saban did find solid contributors in Nick Gentry, Alfred McCullough and Josh Chapman.