One of Illinois’ top targets for the 2019 class, Jahleel Billingsley, has committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide. The tight end out of Chicago is the 294th-ranked player in the nation and the 11th-ranked at his position. It’s an expected disappointment for Illinois, but it raises questions in the greater college football world. Namely, is the era of Nick Saban’s stranglehold on college football coming to an end?
I’m not the first to ask this question. This fall, Alabama will field its first freshman class since 2010 that wasn’t ranked #1 in the country by 247sports.com. With a mere two top-10 recruits, this isn’t the kind of class that gives you great confidence in the future of a program that needed overtime to win the national championship game.
Saban and company panicked in response to these alarming events by racking up early commitments, and as a result the 2019 class is rated #1 in the country. However, this is largely because the class is already at 20. There’s only one five-star, and he’s not even a top-25 national recruit. Sure, right now this is the top class in the country, but it’s not a lock to stay that way. After all, it’s possible that some of these 2019 players won’t start from day one in the NFL.
The need for Billingsley is just the latest shock to the system for embattled Bama fans. He’s a very talented player and I wish him all the best, but there are ten tight ends rated ahead of him in the same class, TWO of whom have committed to Auburn. Another has committed to Georgia, and the top player is an Arkansas lean. Suddenly, Alabama can’t go into places like Lakeland, Florida, and walk out with the state’s best tight end.
Instead, Alabama has to reach as far as Illinois. Billingsley represents the first time Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have ever been desperate enough to reach into the Land of Lincoln. We’ve already debunked the myth that a national championship caliber football team could be assembled from only Illinois natives; surely this is a sign that Saban feels his empire slipping away.
At this rate, I expect that Alabama might lose another game by 2021.