The script flipped for Alabama this past weekend, as a pair of SEC opponents plucked two prized prospects from the Crimson Tide's clutches. Well on his way to an unprecedented fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class, head coach Nick Saban certainly won't wallow in despair about the duo's sudden departure.
Supporters of the team in Tuscaloosa and beyond should adopt a similar attitude after experiencing a slight—and rare—step backward on the recruiting trail.
Keep calm and roll on.
Did Alabama lose a versatile 2015 defensive end when Jonathan Ledbetter pledged his allegiance to Georgia? Sure.
Would defensive tackle Benito Jones have become a foundational member of the Tide's 2016 class had he not jumped over to Ole Miss? Probably.
However, in today's recruiting climate, few programs overcome a bump setbacks en route to national signing day like Alabama. Do you think offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is still lamenting the loss of 5-star quarterback Ricky Town?
The Tide acted swiftly following his flip to USC and identified multiple targets, many of whom have dual-threat skill that simply haven't been featured at the position during an incredibly successful run.
National champions Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron combined to rush for five touchdowns during the past five seasons. Town, another prototypical pocket passer, would have maintained that mold. Instead, Alabama altered its course and appeared intent on landing a dual-threat talent.
Saban found his man in Southern California quarterback Blake Barnett, who initially committed to Notre Dame last year.
"Coach Kiffin and Coach Saban were very fond about the idea of their quarterback being able to run the ball several times in each game," he said following an Elite 11 practice in Beaverton, Oregon. "It's something they were looking for, and it made sense as a fit for me."
A sensational summer and Elite 11 title sent Barnett soaring in national rankings, moving ahead of Town in the process. Barnett projects as a playmaker who can challenge for the starting job as an underclassman and bring a new dynamic to Alabama's talent-laden lineup.
"When a play breaks down and the pocket starts to close in, I can make things happen," he said. "I think I'll be able to bring that element to the offense and maybe open things up for other teammates."
That's one heck of a way to fill the massive hole left behind by Town.
Alabama has lost three commitments during past month (Jones, Ledbetter and top-ranked inside linebacker Leo Lewis), but the Tide managed to plunder other recruiting classes in the process.
Earlier this month, Alabama bolstered its secondary by flipping 4-star defensive backs Rico McGraw (Georgia) and Ronnie Harrison (UNC). They join a stacked backfield that already includes 2014 5-star signees Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.
Both of those coveted cornerbacks committed during the final stretch toward last signing day. They filled needs created by the departures of Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent, who flipped to Auburn and didn't carry the same clout in recruiting rankings as their eventual successors.
When it comes to replacing Ledbetter and Jones, just look at the impressive list of defensive linemen who've expressed interest in attending Alabama. Rest assured, Saban will find new beasts up front.
Rashan Gary, a 5-star 2015 defensive tackle, deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to naming America's top rising junior. The New Jersey native has expressed significant interest in Alabama since receiving an offer.
He currently maintains strong communication with assistant coach Mario Cristobal and listed the Tide, Michigan and Ohio State as teams "I’m talking to the most," per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.
While speaking at The Opening, he admitted an opportunity to play in the SEC could eventually create an advantage for Alabama.
"It felt like things really reached a new level when the SEC offers started arriving," Gary said. "When I realized those teams decided early that they want me, it was an honor. That's grown-man football."
More immediate attention is needed when it comes to replacing Ledbetter, who is rated fifth nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.
Alabama already has a superb stable of talent at the position but remains in pursuit of pass-rushers in this class who can dominate the edge. Top possibilities include CeCe Jefferson (Florida) and Kyle Phillips (Tennessee).
Though some rivals may have reveled in a rough weekend for Alabama's recruiting efforts, any hopes for a full-scale class implosion is foolhardy.
Saban has set a sky-high standard in Tuscaloosa and should feel confident he can raise the bar even higher by the end of this cycle.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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