- Jc Shurburtt
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In Nick Saban's third season, Alabama is playing for its first national championship since 1992. The Crimson Tide are a case study in taking a good program and making it great through excellence in recruiting.
The scary thing for the rest of the country is that Alabama's recruiting is actually getting better and broader.
The Tide will always recruit the top in-state players. Alabama is an underrated state for talent. It is a top-10 state for producing NFL talent. The Tide also have historically recruited the states that border Alabama -- Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida -- with success.
But what you've seen under Saban is the Tide becoming even bigger players in neighboring states and also expanding their reach to the East Coast, Texas and the Midwest.
Here are some out-of-state highlights during the past two recruiting cycles.
• In the Class of 2009, Alabama signed the nation's top running back, Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia), out of the Sunshine State. That was a major recruiting victory as the Tide beat all three major in-state programs, including Florida, for the talented back.
• Thanks to the work of assistant coach Sal Sunseri, Bama has commitments from two of the top three prospects in the state of North Carolina, defensive end Alfy Hill (Shalotte, N.C./West Brunswick) and athlete Keenan Allen (Greensboro, N.C./Northern Guilford).
• Sunseri also landed the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect, Phillip Sims (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith), from Virginia's Tidewater area.
Look for Alabama to increase its national presence should it win on Thursday night. For the Class of 2011, the Tide are already in good shape for players like Florida running back Mike Bellamy (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte) and Ohio Under Armour All-American athletes Braxton Miller (Huber Heights, Ohio/Wayne) and Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio/South). All have the Tide near the top of their list early.
"I think it's good for them to recruit players from other states, like me," Sims said. "We can all come together as a team and all this does is drive up interest in the university and the football program and allows us to recruit the best players from across the country."
During Under Armour All-American Game week, ESPN's Gerry Hamilton asked several prospects what their take is on Thursday's BCS National Championship Game.
Solomon Patton (committed to Florida): "Nothing against Alabama with them beating Florida, but I'm going to have to go with Texas on this one. I feel like Texas is a real good team and I feel like Alabama is too, but I guess I just think Texas is going to come out on top."
Luke Joeckel (committed to Texas A&M): "I'm not really a big fan of Texas at all, but I'm going with the Big 12 conference. I think Texas should win the game. I've always grown up being a Big 12 fan, so I guess I'll root for the Big 12 to win it."
Shaun Lewis (committed to Texas A&M): "I'm going to have to go with Alabama on this. All respect to Texas, but I think Alabama has a better team. It's not that I would have a problem with Texas winning it even though I'll play against them, I just think Alabama is surely the better team."
Jake Holland (committed to Auburn): "Texas all the way. I just can't pull for Alabama. Too much of a rivalry. Everybody is saying you have to pull for your conference team, your in-state team, but I just can't do it."
Josh Shaw (committed to Florida): "I wouldn't really cheer for Alabama let's say, but I just think they are going to win the game. Coming from the Southeast Conference, I just think it's the toughest football in the country for the past few years. I think Texas is a good football team too, but they have their work cut out for them. There are a lot of USC fans out there that don't like Texas since they came out to California and beat USC. I think there will be a lot of people cheering for Alabama where I'm from."
John Fulton (committed to Alabama): "We are going to win. I know we are going to win because we have that running game and they won't be able to stop it once it gets going."
The hot sell: Florida
The Gators have uncertainty surrounding the status of head coach Urban Meyer, who is currently taking a leave of absence, but the program is so strong, it was still able to secure a commitment from one of the best receivers in the country in Chris Dunkley (Pahokee, Fla./Pahokee) and one of the best defensive linemen in the country in Dominique Easley (Staten Island, N.Y./Curtis) during the Under Armour All-American Game on Saturday. Also, the Gators are working to get former commitment Matt Elam (Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer), who switched from the Gators to Florida State last week, back in the fold and have a legit shot at a number of other highly touted prospects still on the board. That's a testament to strength on the recruiting trail.
Two big pieces for OSU?
Should ESPNU150 defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (Philadelphia/George Washington) pick Ohio State on Saturday, it will give the Buckeyes a pair of prospects at that position in this class with some serious size, following the commitment of Johnathon Hankins (Detroit/Southeastern) earlier this week. One source close to Floyd's situation said earlier this week that the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder's commitment could end up being "a surprise," so we will see what happens, but there are a lot of signs that point toward the Buckeyes.
Hicks not giving any early indications
Sources indicate that Florida, Texas and Ohio State all have a legitimate shot at landing five-star linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) before all is said and done. ESPN.com's Gerry Hamilton spoke with Hicks last week during Under Armour All-American Game prep and got the same feeling.
Hicks has roots in the Sun Belt (the region, not the conference), so chances are it's the Longhorns or Gators when all is said and done, but don't count out the home team. We were also told that the closer it gets to national signing day, the more Ohio State's chances increase.
Under Armour All-American receiver Tai-ler Jones (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) had his in-home visit with new Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
SEC battle for Lattimore?
Conventional wisdom has South Carolina and Auburn battling it out for ESPNU 150 running back Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes), but there are some close to him who will tell anyone who will listen not to count out Oregon or Penn State. In fact, if the Ducks were not across the country, they would be even bigger players for the nation's No. 16 overall prospect because of their style of offense.
Missouri is the latest program to offer Class of 2011 ESPNU150 Watch List defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds (Washington, D.C./Saint John's College). The Tigers join North Carolina, Maryland, New Mexico, UTEP and Kansas State in offering the 6-foot-3, 274-pounder. Virginia and Boston College also are starting to show interest. South Florida and Clemson both offered Class of 2011 ESPNU150 Watch List defensive end Ray Drew (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central) this week. Linebacker Devonta Bolton (Scooba, Miss./East Mississippi Junior College) will not be a part of the Alabama recruiting class. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is a talented player and should end up at another major program. The issue was he was not able to enroll early at Bama and the Tide have limited numbers.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.