College Football

Alabama, Nick Saban find yet another avenue to stockpile talent

May 9

Make even the slightest change to the sport of college football, and odds are Nick Saban will figure out how to take advantage of it. A prime example of this played out over the past week.

In mid-April, the NCAA loosened transfer rules, allowing college athletes to transfer one time as an undergraduate without having to sit out a season. Now, Alabama appears to have made an easy adjustment to the new regulations, adding two players from big-time programs in the past week.

The first came on Monday, when Jameson Williams, a speedster receiver from Ohio State, chose to take his talents to Tuscaloosa. 

Then on Saturday, Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o also chose Alabama for his new home.

What is Alabama getting in these two players?

When it comes to Williams, they’re getting a receiver with elite speed.

"Jameson’s a track runner. I think if he wanted to go to the Olympics and focus on that, he could," Williams’ high school coach Brandon Gregory told AL.com. "So Georgia, ‘Bama, everybody was saying ‘Hey, we have receivers.’ Let’s not get it twisted. But at the same time, with the speed that he has and some of the things that they do, they just think they can find different ways to bring his talent out and then also stretch the field to help the (receivers) out as well."

It was only about a month ago that Saban said he’d like more speed in his receiver corp.

"I think speed kills on the football field and on the highway," Saban said. "I love to have speed guys. We have some big guys, but we’ve gotta get some speed guys, too."

With Williams, Saban can cross that one off his shopping list.

In To’o To’o, Alabama adds a tackle machine (140 tackles with 12.5 tackles for loss in 22 games for the Volunteers) who should pair with Christian Harris to form a frightening duo at inside linebacker.

"This is a tremendous get for Nick Saban and (defensive coordinator) Pete Golding and I think a just glove-fit when we’re talking about player and scheme," said FOX Sports College Football Writer RJ Young. "Next to Christian Harris, those dudes are about to get after it like Kid ‘n Play. That’s an elite inside linebacking corps."

So in one week, Saban adds speed to his receiver group – something he recently mentioned he was lacking – and a new middle linebacker who will likely start. And he did it all without hitting the recruiting trail.

If you think it feels like Saban can pick and choose where and how he wants to fill holes in his roster, you might not be far off. The coach acknowledged this himself about a month ago when commenting on the NCAA’s loosened transfer restrictions.

Saban said that the flow of transfers would likely benefit the powerful programs like his own, predicting that bad players would leave good programs because they’re not playing, while good players would move up to the better programs as replacements. He also said that Alabama would be in a position to choose transfers based on immediate needs.

"We’re going to adapt to it and make it an advantage for us," Saban said, according to The Athletic. "So is that going to make the rich get richer? I don’t know. You can decide that, but we will only look for transfers that can really, that are going to help our team be better. So, that means we have to have a need for them. They have to be better than a guy is that we have in the program right now at their position.

"And so we’ll be selective and how we choose guys, we’re still going to recruit quality players that we can develop in the program. I don’t think it’s going to change our philosophy on that, because if we save spots to be able to do this, then what happens with the guys that leave your program? You just replace them with guys from other programs. … I think we’ll be able to get some good players to join us when we have room to do that."

And why wouldn’t a good player want to play for Saban? After all, there are two selling points that seem to be practically guaranteed: Winning and going to the NFL.

Saban’s teams play a lot of games on national TV, and they win most of them. Since 2009, Alabama has gone 151-15 (.909) and won six national championships under Saban’s steady hand.

Secondly, Saban puts a lot of players into the NFL.

This year alone Alabama had three players drafted in the top 10 (Jaylen Waddle at No. 6. Patrick Surtain II at No. 9 and DeVonta Smith at No. 10), and six in the first round of the NFL Draft. Since 2010, Saban has coached 38 players that became first-round picks, more than any other coach in the nation.

On top of all this, Alabama routinely finishes at the top of the recruiting rankings. According to CBSSports.com, the Tide’s recruiting classes have ranked either first or second nationally in four of the past five years. 

And 247Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and USA Today (for starters) all ranked Alabama’s 2021 class No. 1.

In summation, Saban wins championships, puts players in the pros and dominates on the recruiting trail. And now, he’s grabbing whatever he thinks he might need out of the transfer portal as well.

Is it fair? That’s up for debate. But for now, it’s simply a reality in college football that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

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