TUSCALOOSA _ Whenever the informal college football holiday known as National Signing Day rolls around, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban tries to come up with some new material and somehow always seems to come through.
His press conference to discuss the Class of 2010 was no exception.
"If we went out to buy a hunting dog and it was a puppy, we would buy it based on its potential, its lineage or whatever you want to call it in terms of breeding, and we would know probably when that dog grew up whether it was a good hunting dog or not," he said. "We'd never know until we put him out in the field and saw him actually go hunting, but we would buy it without knowing for sure what that result would be.
"I think recruiting is not an exact science and really it takes about two years to really evaluate whether you had a good recruiting class or not. If we really want to figure it out, we should be talking about the 2008 recruiting class right now."
Nevertheless, in addition to the eight players already enrolled and three grayshirts held over from last year, Alabama added 18 new players Wednesday on one of the most anticlimactic signing days in recent history.
There were no surprises and after winning the mythical national recruiting title the two previous years Alabama finished fifth in Rivals' rankings despite signing a kicker, punter, fullback and tight end - all positions that don't translate well to the rankings formula.
While that helps open the door to a potentially monster class next year, the Tide became just the fourth school since 2002 to have three straight top five finishes, joining Southern California (2003-7), Florida State (2004-6), and Florida (2006-8). Texas and Florida have been in the top five four of the last five years, and USC six of the last seven. Among them, all but Florida State have won a BCS national championship during that time span.
Note: The only other school to finish first in the recruiting rankings was LSU in 2003, which was coached by Saban. The Tigers won the title both that year and in 2007.
Highlighting this collection was the nation's top group of defensive backs, six in all, which helped lead to two obvious themes regarding the Tide's class, need and speed.
"I think the DBs make it that way, a couple of explosive receivers and a fast back," Saban said. "I don't think that we went out there saying we need more team speed, I think we have good speed. I think we're replacing some of the speed of the guys who left. We sort of identify needs and priorities early in recruiting and try and fill those needs, but this year we felt like because of the specialists situation and the DB situation we went kind of overboard on trying to fill those needs and created some unbalance in other positions."
Alabama still landed four of the state's top five prospects, including the lone five-star recruit in Stanhope Elmore High School cornerback DeMarcus Milliner, the top quarterback on its prospects board in Phillip Sims, and eight linemen, four offensive and four defensive.
Seven players were among the Rivals100, three named Parade All-Americans and 12 prospects played in either the U.S. Army or Under Armour All-America game.
"We have put together some great talent at different positions," Sims said. "We got into the trenches this year and got some talent everywhere. We have specialists like (kicker) Cade Foster, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, receivers, backs, linebackers and safeties, so we did it all this year. This is a class to be proud of."
The last addition, four-star offensive tackle Arie Kouandjio (6-foot-5, 335 pounds), gave his verbal earlier this week while Alabama lost long-standing commitment Keenan Allen. The five-star safety wanted to play wide receiver and with his brother Zach Maynard, the former Buffalo quarterback. Saban said he told the family there wasn't room on the roster for an additional transfer and both ended up at Cal.
"Getting Arie, who is a real tackle type and a real good player, was probably a real key in making us feel like we satisfied our needs," Saban said. "I think everyone has to look at numbers. Because of the situation we had to recruit more by need in this recruiting class than ever before. Offensive line was not one of the significant needs in this class, relative to numbers required to get players that we have in the program that we recruited in the past. Losing six defensive backs and a seventh going out for the draft made us recruit a whole bunch of defensive backs. We really only recruited 20 guys and I think seven of them were defensive backs. That only left 13 guys for all the other positions and we recruited a kicker and a punter, that's why I say we only had 20 guys that were position players.
"We feel well about the way things worked out for us and the guys that we got. Austin Shepherd can play tackle or guard. Chad (Lindsay) is probably just a guard or a center. Arie is probably just a tackle. I think next year we will make a big emphasis to get a tackle type or two in that class."
Florida, which lost nearly every starter, had the No 1 class (as of this writing), edging out Southern California and Texas. Auburn was fourth with LSU sixth and Tennessee ninth. Although Auburn signed only one of the top five in-state players, it landed five of the top 13 rated four-star or better in addition to the top prospect from both Louisiana and Mississippi and key recruits from Georgia. Georgia, which appeared poised for a top-five finish, had key defections and dropped all the way to No. 16.
Probably the closest thing Alabama had to a late surprise was the recent addition of Brandon Ivory, who at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds might someday take Terrence Cody's spot at nose guard.
"We felt like we had to justify our dietician in some way since Cody's leaving," Saban joked, but also explained how Ivory appeared on Alabama's radar. "A coach that we know called and said we played this guy and he's a big guy, very agile and athletic, we couldn't block him, (plays for) a pretty good program and a pretty good school. So we got some film and looked at him and about the time we're looking at the film they're having an all-star game in West Tennessee and the coaches called from the all-star game and a player who played in it, Keiwone Malone, said 'Do you know about this guy? This guy's really a good player, he's big, he's fast, he's this and that.' There were only two schools that really recruited him before us and I actually went and watched him practice basketball to see how he moved because I'm thinking this is too good to be true.
"Nobody recruited Cody. We were the only offer he had. But (Irovy) was moving around the basketball court pretty good, dunked it, touched the rim and all that kind of stuff."
Malone, the first player to sign on to Alabama's class, wasn't the Tide commitment doing some recruiting this past year.
"If you want to win a championship, Alabama is the place to be," Milliner said. "That's all you can say, period."