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The biggest storyline of the 2021 hiring cycle

What if USC and Miami get really good again?

It is beyond dispute that Travis Hunter, the consensus No. 1 player of the class of 2022, flipping from Florida State to Jackson State was the biggest story of the first early Signing Day. Earth-shattering as that was, it remains to be seen if: a) More than one elite player spurns the Power 5 for FCS, b) Any HBCU/FCS coach beyond Coach Prime manages to wrangle elite-of-the-elite talent, and c) Deion remains at Jackson State long enough to recruit a roster Power 5 teams will envy.

For those reasons, I think the biggest storyline -- or at least the beginning of what could potentially become the biggest storyline -- of the early NSD period actually took place Friday.

In a span of a few hours, USC landed 5-star cornerback Domani Jackson (the top player in California, per 247) and Miami nabbed 4-star tight end Jaleel Skinner. 

Here's why that's significant, both players chose to stay home... and spurned Alabama to do so. Skinner was committed to Alabama before Mario Cristobal flipped him; Jackson originally committed to Clay Helton's staff, de-committed when the ship started sinking and was widely expected to pick Alabama before Lincoln Riley swayed him to re-commit. 

So in two fell swoops, USC and Miami get better, at Alabama's expense.

Needless to say, this the exact opposite of the current dynamic. Bryce Young left Southern California to win the Heisman at Alabama. The Tide has eight players from South Florida. 

The College Football Playoff era has seen an enormous consolidation of wealth at the top, and Alabama has been at the top of the top. Alabama has appeared in seven of the eight fields, and won three of the seven titles (with the opportunity to make it four of eight in the next few weeks). Add in Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia, and six programs have claimed nearly three-quarters of all CFP berths awarded through eight years in the system.

It's no secret that success was won by going into Florida, Texas, and California and taking the best players, and that doesn't happen if Miami, Texas and USC aren't asleep at the wheel. 

It will be good for college football if USC, Miami and Texas become national powers again. It will be great for college football if those three do so at Alabama's expense. USC and Miami are bell cow programs located in major media markets. The Pac-12 and ACC have been lagging relative to their peers. Los Angeles and Miami will tune in to watch the Trojans and the Hurricanes, but they won't necessarily tune into a Georgia-Alabama national title game. None of this is revelatory information.

Already, Riley's move from Norman to LA severed Oklahoma's California pipeline; 5-star RB Raleek Brown flipped from OU to USC, and 2023 5-star teammates QB Malachi Nelson and WR Makai Lemon flipped from the Sooners to the Trojans. USC's 2022 class presently consists of seven commits; three are among the top 50 players nationally. 

In the run up to Signing Day, Steve Sarkisian flipped 4-star CB Terrance Brooks from Ohio State, 4-star athlete X'Avion Brice from Oklahoma and 3-star DE Ethan Burke from Michigan.

And we haven't even touched on Texas A&M's No. 1 class, filled with players from Pennsylvania to Arizona and everywhere in between who would've been Crimson Tide and Bulldogs and Tigers had they not become Aggies. 

So are you saying Alabama is about to crumble because they didn't sign two players? No. I am not saying that at all. Alabama won't slip from 11-1 to 6-6 because Domani Jackson and Jaleel Skinner didn't sign. One, two, 10, 25 or even 50 players won't end Alabama's dynasty. Nick Saban will adjust. He always does.

But I'm not saying Alabama needs to completely crumble for college football to become more interesting at the top. The Tide simply has to go from really, really, really good to simply really, really good. 

The Crimson Tide is back in the Playoff, yes, but they had to sweat to get there. They lost to Texas A&M, beat LSU by six, Arkansas by seven, and needed a miracle rally to squeak past Auburn. 

What happens if the Tide suddenly doesn't have its pick of the best players in Florida, Texas and California? Ditto that for the Bulldogs, the Buckeyes and the Tigers. 

Again, no one's saying Alabama or anyone else are going to crumble overnight. We're simply asking you to imagine a future where college football's oligarchs are merely 90 percent as good as they've been lately, while the Trojans and the Hurricanes, the Longhorns and the Aggies are back to operating at or near their potential.

That future looks pretty enticing, does it not?