NCAAF Gossip: Can Saban Bring 'Bama Back to Top Ranks?

Jason Lake

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 2:26 PM GMT

The Alabama Crimson Tide dropped the Iron Bowl and the Sugar Bowl as double-digit favorites against the college football lines. But Nick Saban’s recruiting still brings all the boys to the yard. If there’s an Evil Empire in college football betting, it’s the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Not a lot of tears were shed outside Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide lost the Iron Bowl – and the SEC championship – to the Auburn Tigers (+10) on a missed-FG return. And there was much rejoicing when the Oklahoma Sooners (+17) followed up with a 45-31 win over Alabama at the Sugar Bowl. That was the first bowl loss for ‘Bama since the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

In between? Three BCS National Championships, which is why so many high-school prospects are still drawn to the dark side. The latest recruit: four-star TE Hale Hentges, who succumbed to the Tide on Sunday. Hentges’ arrival makes it 16 players in Alabama’s burgeoning Class of 2015. Everyone from Scout.com to Rivals.com and ESPN has this class ranked No. 1 in the nation. Are we going to have to put up with another three instalments of this series?


Low Tide
If you bet on college football and you don’t mind aligning yourself with Darth Vader, aka head coach Nick Saban, this might be just the right time to jump on the ‘Bama bandwagon. They’re coming off a disappointing 6-6-1 ATS campaign after going 7-7 ATS in 2012, so if it’s possible to “buy low” on Alabama, this is as low as things have been since Saban’s arrival in 2007. The Tide aren’t even favored to win the FBS title again next year; they’re 6-1 on Bodog’s NCAAF futures market, second behind the defending champion Florida State Seminoles at 9-2.

It’s tough to bet against Saban when the Dark Lord keeps loading up on quality players. Every single recruiting class he’s brought to Tuscaloosa has been ranked in the Top 10, and usually in the Top 5. Last year’s No. 1 class included seven five-star prospects, and while there are no five-star recruits (yet) on this year’s roll call, 14 of the 16 pledges have four shiny gold stars next to their names. That is a very deep talent pool.

Hentges is emblematic of this class as a whole. He’s the No. 2-rated tight end prospect at ESPN, and figures to be an effective blocking complement to current Alabama TE O.J. Howard (14 catches, two TDs). Hentges can also catch the ball on shorter routes, but it’s really his blocking that should have ‘Bama fans raising a glass of Membrosia. And it just so happens that three of the other Tide recruits are offensive guards, in a class that’s definitely weighted toward offense.


Parker McLeod Can’t Win
So why can’t Saban seem to hang onto his quarterbacks? Reports from Tuesday had redshirt freshman QB Parker McLeod angling for his release, and Saban confirmed at the SEC meetings that McLeod was free to go. Assuming he transfers (Oklahoma State and Maryland are among McLeod’s possible landing spots), he’ll be the fifth quarterback to do so since Saban took over.

None of them have been missed. When Saban finds a quarterback he likes, he sticks with him, and everyone else is left fending for scraps. That’s why four-star recruit Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia when he couldn’t beat A.J. McCarron for the starting job in 2011. Sims, by the way, will be playing in Division II next year for Winston-Salem State.

But at least he should be starting. McLeod was almost certainly buried on Alabama’s depth chart, well behind the two frontrunners to take over for the departed McCarron: junior Jacob Coker, himself a transfer from Florida State, and senior holdover Blake Sims. Coker (18-of-36 last year) has already graduated from FSU and is eligible to play right away for ‘Bama. In Saban’s thinking, if Coker could be turned, he will become a powerful ally.