If the nation’s 2017 No. 1 recruit, running back Najee Harris from Antioch, California, stays true to his verbal commitment to the Alabama Crimson Tide, he will follow QB Blake Barnett as another recent top-rated California high school football player opting to play for St. Nick Saban. Indeed, Blake was “committed” to Notre Dame and then to Oregon (for a nano-second) before he tripped to Alabama, was seduced by the uber-successful Lane Kiffin and committed the same day he arrived on the Tide’s campus.
Harris holds offers from the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans, so his decision cannot be based on educational opportunity. Alabama is far, far down the ladder from the two LA schools in any reasonable, valid, academic ranking of America’s colleges and universities. Forbes 2015 ranking of all colleges and universities in the United States has UCLA at 45, USC at 71 and Alabama at 261. Unless Harris wants to major in Frog Giggin’, why would he choose to matriculate in the garden spot of Tuscaloosa, Alabama?
Harris would play for former NFL coach Jim Mora if he were to attend UCLA, and would not otherwise escape the attention of pro scouts if he suits up in LA, especially with the Rams returning to the west coast. Alabama RBs who played for Saban have advanced to the League in recent years (with mixed success), but USC has over the years sent a fair number of quality backs to the NFL as has UCLA, no?
Even the most diehard Tide fan, if not completely under the influence of the SEC Network and Paul Finebaum, has to admit that the climate in southern California is far superior to that of Alabama. The Left Coast also wins out on the bug index, as it is generally free of mosquitoes and other flying, blood-sucking critters. As Ronald Reagan once said: “If the Pilgrims had landed in California, Massachusetts would be undiscovered.” I do not believe President Reagan would have had a different opinion when it came to the Yellow Hammer State.
Alabama does have a number of beautiful coeds strolling the campus, but Hollywood and the surrounding areas more than holds its own when it comes to pulchritude. The UCLA campus is simply beautiful. The area around USC is shaky, but the campus itself is very nice. I have been to Tuscaloosa. Unless your life revolves around taking meals at a Waffle House or in one of a hundred local barbecue joints, I imagine most reasonable folk would opt for the Left Coast.
As noted above, Nick has introduced quality running backs into the NFL. But the Tide does not come close to matching the following Troy running backs: Frank Gifford, Jon Arnett, LenDale White, Mike Garrett, Ricky Bell, Anthony Davis, Reggie Bush, OJ Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen. And UCLA’s Skip Hicks, Kermit Johnson, Mel Farr, Freeman McNeil, Maurice Jones-Drew and Kenny Washington are not chopped liver.
In his time at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, the best QB forwarded by Saban to the League is … I’m waiting for an answer, Bama fans. Indeed, due to the overall talent he has brought to Tuscaloosa, Nick can win with mediocre QB play while running an offense that is going to pass the ball only when and as needed. Blake Barnett replacing Jerrod Goff at Cal this season would have a far better chance to air it out and impress NFL scouts. (This is also true of Alabama QB Cooper Bateman from Utah.)
So why would a quality Left Coast QB or RB leave nirvana to earn a far less meritorious degree and to play in a bug-infested steam bath? According to Najee Harris, fellow Golden State resident Barnett told him that in Tuscaloosa, like Barnett, he will be “treated like a king.”
I have never been a king. But as a graduate of Bowdoin College (ranked No. 21 in the above referenced Forbes list) and with a major in History, I have studied a Grand Pooh-bah or two. My professors taught me that a king is usually the person with the most bank in the kingdom. That a king has myriad minions who respond to his every desire. That a king need not work that hard, or hit the books, as this can all be delegated to worker bees and pencil pushers. That a king oft has a harem at his beck and call. That in almost all circumstances, a king is above the law. And that a king can “borrow” money from a university employee and risk no punishment at the hands of the NCAA. (As to the last point, I jest.)
So, if Blake Barnett is receiving king-like benefits and Najee Harris will also experience such largess, why not leave the Golden State for a “golden opportunity” in Alabama? After all, history, which has much tell us regarding kings, has also taught us to “follow the money!”
Thank goodness the NCAA cratered the UW program and ran off St. Nick’s college coach, Don James. Thank goodness the NCAA jumped on Boise State and saved us all from improper futon use. Thank goodness the NCAA jumped on Oregon for using a “runner” in recruiting. Thank goodness Bama staffers can “lend” money to needy players with impunity. Thank goodness Mississippi’s Laremy Tunsil only had to sit out a few games for receiving improper benefits and Ole Miss was not dinged for Lack of Institutional Control as was (the real) USC when Reggie had his hand out.
Maybe it does make sense to trip east?
Top photo from commons.wikimedia.org
Jon Joseph grew up in Boston, Massachusetts but has been blessed to have lived long enough in the west to have exorcised all east coast bias. He played football in college and has passionately followed the game for seven decades. A retired corporate attorney Jon has lectured across the country and published numerous articles on banking and gaming law. Now resident in central Oregon Jon follows college football across the nation with a focus on the Conference of Champions and the Ducks.
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