- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Signing day came and went without Alabama ever being threatened to fall from its place atop the college football recruiting pecking order. Coach Nick Saban and his staff in Tuscaloosa received national letters of intent from 19 players on Wednesday, not including eight early enrollees who arrived on campus in January. The Crimson Tide's 27-man signing class marks the third consecutive year in which it finished No. 1 in the ESPN Class Rankings.
All told, Alabama signed a college football best 19 ESPN 300 athletes, the most since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. His first recruiting class finished a lackluster 17th nationally, according to ESPN. But given a full calendar year to crisscross the recruiting trail, Saban and his staff thrived. From 2008 on, Alabama never failed to finish lower than third in the ESPN Class Rankings, becoming the only program in the country to do so.
"I've never heard anybody say they've had a bad class," Saban said. "I've never heard anybody say they haven't identified their needs.
"So I'm going to say the same thing: We had a good class and we sort of identified our needs"
Alabama entered Wednesday with 18 signed recruits from the ESPN 300, including five of the top 15 -- offensive lineman Cameron Robinson (West Monroe High, La.), defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.), cornerback Tony Brown (Ozen, Texas), athlete Bo Scarbrough (Tuscaloosa County, Ala.) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala.).
"I think the way recruiting is set up now is guys make decisions early, which is helpful," Saban said. "Most of the guys know what they're going to do today, which is also helpful to us -- being able to manage the numbers and get the best players."
The Crimson Tide won a local recruiting battle Wednesday with the signing of Auburn native Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala.), the No. 52 overall recruit and second-ranked outside linebacker. Auburn was one of the other finalists to land Evans.
"When I was up there at the podium, I was thinking, 'Man, maybe I should go to Auburn,' " Evans told ESPN.com. "But then I really thought about it, and Alabama was the best place for me."
The SEC once again dominated the recruiting landscape with seven of its member programs occupying the top 10 classes in the country, including three of the top four overall. LSU, which signed the No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette (St. Augustine, La.) and the No. 1 wide receiver Malachi Dupre (John Curtis Christian, La.), finished second to Alabama. Texas A&M finished fourth behind national champion Florida State of the ACC.
Saban's haul of prospects in Tuscaloosa was by far the most impressive, however. Of the 15 five-star recruits, the Tide signed five. Of the top four recruits in the state of Alabama, the Tide signed three. Fourteen of Alabama's signees ranked among the top five prospects at their position nationally.
"I can't really comment much about the rankings, guys," Saban said, "because I really do think the most accurate way to be able to rank any recruiting class would be three years down the road because I think the challenge for all these young men that got recruited today, wherever they're going, is to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to improve as players and do the things that they need to do to become very effective college football players, and it is a challenge to go from high school to college."
The Trojans added more high-end talent later Wednesday with the signing of John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach Poly, Calif.), the No. 24 overall recruit and the third-ranked athlete.
Jackson and Smith are the highest-ranked players to commit to USC under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who is attempting to revitalize the Trojans. Jackson, the third-ranked cornerback, also was considering Florida, LSU, UCLA and Oklahoma.
"Growing up as a little kid, my favorite player was Reggie Bush," Jackson said. "I just wanted to go out and live that dream and put SC back on top, back to the dominance of those days."
Smith was also courted by UCLA and Notre Dame, but said Wednesday, "USC's just been my dream school since Day 1."
"I just felt it was right to stay home and play football for the state of Louisiana and try to bring a national championship back to the state," Dupre said.
The reigning national champion Seminoles also landed one of the top unsigned recruits Wednesday morning in Ermon Lane (Homestead Senior, Fla.), the No. 22 overall recruit and the second-ranked wide receiver.
Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas), the No. 25 overall recruit and the No. 4-ranked defensive end, started off signing day by committing to Stanford. Thomas is the Cardinal's seventh ESPN 300 prospect in the Class of 2014.
Maryland also made a big splash Wednesday morning, landing offensive tackle Damian Prince (Bishop McNamara, Md.). The No. 26 overall recruit and the third-ranked tackle, Prince signed with the Terrapins over Florida.
The SEC entered the day with seven teams in the top 10 of RecruitingNation's class rankings.
Since the start of ESPN's recruiting rankings in 2006, the team with the top class averaged about 10 wins that same season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
These teams saw the biggest jump in win total three years after signing the class; in fact, two of the top classes, Florida State in 2011 and Florida in 2006, won the BCS National Championship three years later.
ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf contributed to this report.