Wofford's Kendall Bratcher, left, moves in to tackle Georgia Southern's Dominique Swope (31) with Alvin Scioneaux, bottom, grabbing Swope's right leg during an NCAA college football game in Spartanburg, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Georgia Southern defeated Wofford 31-10. (AP Photo/The Herald-Journal, John Byrum)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's seniors are poised to become the program's winningest class.
They'll wrap up their careers at Bryant-Denny Stadium today against Georgia Southern (9-1) of the Football Championship Subdivision, a game in which they're favored to notch record-setting win No. 46.
"It's been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, which is what football is all about, I think," said center William Vlachos, who initially committed to Mike Shula and signed with Nick Saban. "It's been a great ride. I've been a part of some great teams, had some great teammates, played for some outstanding coaches. Couldn't ask for more."
Well, a second national title would be nice.
The 2007 signing class represents coach Saban's mad scramble to keep the recruiting pledges in hand and add any that he could after his January hiring.
"We worked hard to get those guys here," Saban said. "We had to hire another pilot, because we wore the two we had out putting that class together going all over the place."
Then came 2008, which was rated the nation's best signing class and really got things going. The highlights were Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcell Dareus -- all first-round NFL draft picks -- and two-time All-America noseguard Terrence Cody.
The home finale these days is generally treated as Alabama's scheduling substitute to a bye week before playing in the Iron Bowl against Auburn (the Tigers' opponent is FCS Samford).
This time, it's also a chance for Tide fans to bid farewell to the remaining seniors who came in on the ground floor of Saban's powerhouse in the making.
His first team won just seven games. His second, twice that and a national title.
"This group of guys came here when we weren't winning, when we weren't having success," Saban said. "Alabama wasn't good, and there weren't a lot of good things happening. It's one of the best classes I've ever been associated with. Certainly their accomplishments here, the number of games they have been able to win, is pretty significant."
Third-ranked Alabama (9-1) will have send 10 starters from those groups to the field Saturday, not all of them seniors.
The biggest remaining senior star is two-time All-America safety Mark Barron, a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy given to the nation's top defensive player. Vlachos is pushing 40 starts and noseguard Josh Chapman is the formidable man in the middle. Both are among the '07 signees; others include wide receiver Darius Hanks and offensive lineman Alfred McCullough.Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, a junior, comprise half the finalists for the Lombardi Award given to the top linebacker or interior lineman. They're '08 signees.
"Oh that class was good," tailback Trent Richardson ('09) said. "As you see last year they had, what, three dudes in the first round from `08? What can you say from that? I'm pretty sure there are going to be some going in the first round this year."
Richardson might be among them if he opts to skip his senior season.
Vlachos doesn't even bother debating which of Saban's first two classes was best, but both have had significant impacts.
"You have to say the '08 class is better," he said. "Rolando McClain has been playing in the NFL for two years, and I'm still sitting here talking to you guys (reporters). The `08 class was pretty special; '07 had some good players, certainly."
Saban said he hopes the Tide's performance against Georgia Southern provides an appropriate sendoff for those seniors in a game that otherwise would be easy to overlook. The Eagles run the triple option and are averaging 320.4 rushing yards a game.
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken calls the Tide "the best football team in the country right now."
"We make yards by running the football, they hold opponents to 51.9 yards per game rushing," Monken said. "They are so far superior in every position ... I don't know whether to laugh or cry. They are just a great, great football team and as well coached as anybody in the country."