CROSSING PATHS: LSU, Alabama Recruiting

LSU and Alabama continue to wage the country's most intense recruiting war. Scout's John Garcia and Hunter Paniagua dig deeper into this rivalry and offer up predictions for the battles in the 2015 class

A large section of the country will tune into CBS on Saturday to watch LSU and Alabama battle in Tiger Stadium. It’s one of the most intense rivalries in college football, but it all starts years before the players actually take the field.

This battle starts in the homes and high schools of teenagers. LSU and Alabama have waged an incredible war in recruiting, battling for not only the top prospects in the South, but across the nation.

Year after year, the Tigers and Tide compete for the top spots in the national recruiting rankings. Competing in the SEC requires the accumulation of elite talent, and few programs have done that as well as these two. So with both teams eyeing the creme of the crop, it’s not uncommon for the two to cross paths on the recruiting trail.

That’s led to some of the most intriguing battles in recent years. This year is no different, and with the big game approaching, we’re going to look to the past, present and future of this recruiting war.

John Garcia Jr. with BamaMag and Hunter Paniagua from Tiger Sports Digest have collaborated to look back on the battles of the past and what those players have done for their respective colleges. We’ll look at the prospects in the 2015 being targeted by both schools, and then we’ll look to the future and figure out which recruits are next in line.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW


Nothing like a national TV audience and a growing event to kick off phase 2 of the Alabama-LSU rivalry, and five-star Louisianan Landon Collins’ public commitment in January of 2012 made it a must-see moment. It wasn’t just because he spurned the in-state power for its rival by picking ‘Bama, but his mother’s body-language and subsequent words on why the five-star safety should have picked LSU gave the story a national footnote for its novelty.

What has kept Collins’ decision relevant is his play and this week’s admittance that playing the Bayou Bengals is his favorite game of every year. On the field, he’s the table-setter of the secondary that has NFL scouts on his trail for his ability to play physically as well as in space against the pass. The junior has played a significant role his entire Alabama career, but has taken the next step this fall to the point that he’s on the short list for the Bednarik award, awarded to the nation’s top defender.

Collins, who is likely to test NFL Draft waters after the season, also shared the necessity to finish his Alabama career with an undefeated record against his home state school. He and the Crimson Tide are off to a 2-0 start, so he couldn’t be happier. There’s also word that his mother is now fully supported of her son’s headline-creating decision to the point that she has even uttered a certain phrase that remains prevalent in Tuscaloosa.


The same year Alabama landed Collins, LSU went into Alabama for Kwon Alexander, considered one of the nation’s top linebackers. He spurned the home-state schools and opted to go with LSU with a National Signing Day announcement on national television. He’s grown into a three-year starter and a physical force from the WILL position. He leads the team in tackles and ranks second in tackles for loss. He’ll likely test the NFL market after his junior season, and he has the potential to be an early-round pick.

Lining up next to Alexander in LSU’s linebacker corps is Kendell Beckwith, another big recruiting victory for the Tigers over Alabama. Louisiana’s No. 1 prospect in 2013, his recruitment boiled down to only LSU and Alabama. The Tide made a strong push, but ultimately he chose to stay home with the Tigers, and he’s proved to be a major win.

After spending his freshman season at defensive end, Beckwith moved back to his preferred position of middle linebacker in 2014. Though he started as D.J. Welter’s backup, he eventually won the starting job and has aided in the resurgence of LSU’s defense. With three starts this season, he’s No. 3 on the team with 52 tackles, including four for loss. He also has a 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and has even intercepted a pass, doing a bit of everything for the Tigers.


Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 recruit in 2014

The Class of 2014 was really where the recruiting war between LSU and Alabama was taken to another level. With so much elite talent in the state of Louisiana that year, the Tide made a strong push to raid the Pelican State, and LSU had to do everything in its power to keep those big-time prospects home.

None were bigger than Leonard Fournette. In a battle that started his freshman season, LSU ultimately won with an announcement at that year’s Under-Armour game. The nation’s No. 1 overall recruit was the absolute jewel of LSU’s class, and after a slow start to his freshman season, he’s now proving every analyst right.

Fournette has emerged as LSU’s featured back. His coming out party came at Florida, where he racked up 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ narrow victory. He showed out again two weeks ago against Ole Miss, eclipsing the 100-yard mark once more. With LSU so dependent on the run this season, Fournette has been the bellcow, and while he may not be a Heisman candidate as some might have projected, he certainly has all the potential to be one of the premier backs in the country.

If Fournette was the crown jewel in the state, Cameron Robinson was the most coveted No. 2 in recruiting history. The five-star offensive lineman from Monroe, La., bucked the announce-on-national-TV trend with a somewhat surprising early commitment to Nick Saban and Alabama. Perhaps even more surprising, LSU’s consistent push for what some deem as a no-brainer first round draft pick didn’t seem to cause Robinson to reconsider his early pledge. Robinson hasn’t disappointed since, assuming starting left tackle duties from the season opener until this week, when the only thing potentially keeping him from playing against his home state school is a high ankle sprain suffered last month against Tennessee.


The year was a stacked one in Louisiana, and Monroe had three other natives on the short list of four-stars that each school wanted. While wide receiver Cameron Sims never quite got the push from LSU like many on this list did, fellow area-talent and rival Hootie Jones did. The safety committed to Alabama and then backed off of the pledge late in the cycle, only to re-commit to Saban and company in early January, just days before enrolling. He was the second Monroe safety that ended up in Alabama’s class, following area-native Ronnie  Clark, whose family was displaced to central Alabama after Hurricane Katrina. Most felt the two-way threat would come down to Alabama and Auburn before a decision, but LSU made it interesting late in the game before he pledged to the Crimson Tide. The friendship between the four players have as much to do with the recruiting rivalry as Saban’s comfort in Louisiana.

Leading up to Robinson’s commitment, it was somewhat known that Saban’s current side would receive better news than his former program, but it was the opposite for five-star Texan Tony Brown. Another elite down to the two schools for the final stretch of his recruitment, with a sister running track in Baton Rouge, some viewed it as a matter of when and not if he’d be a Tiger. Others focused on the potential race between Brown’s parents, with his mother wanting the kids to attend the same school and his father a big fan of Saban and his potential in Tuscaloosa. Eventually, all parties agreed and Alabama edged LSU by the time the announcement was made, on the same stage Collins did two years prior. Brown has since assumed a major role as a true freshman cornerback by playing in every 2014 game, starting multiple contests in the process.

So who are the next chapters in this recruiting rivalry?


Alabama commit Daylon Charlot's also a top LSU target

RECRUITING BATTLES OF 2015


While the 2015 class may not have as many intense battles as 2014 did, there are still plenty of recruits with both LSU and Alabama on their offer list. We take a look at six, providing the background of their recruitments and even take a stab at predicting where they’ll end up.

WR Daylon Charlot | Patterson, La.


Alabama’s side: ‘Bama jumped out and offered the Patterson, La., native on a junior day trip in February, and he accepted it soon after. LSU countered with an offer to the wide receiver after he dominated their camp in the summertime. The Tide has made him a priority for longer, but will it be enough to hold off LSU?

LSU’s side: There were initially some feelings that LSU’s offer to Charlot came too late. But the Tigers have done well to ensure that Charlot is one of the top priorities in the state this season. That’s mended the relationship, and now he truly seems torn between the two schools. LSU’s encouraging him with the benefits of staying home, and that seems to be having a positive effect.

John’s prediction: This one seems like a true tossup at this time, but anytime a prospect is committed to one school and has a “final” decision date set, it’s rare for the original school to win out. LSU is the pick, in what will be another Under Armour All-America Game declaration.

Hunter’s prediction: I see LSU pulling this one out in the end as well. Charlot has experienced the Tiger Stadium atmosphere several times and now knows what it’s like to represent your state on the big stage. I think that will ultimately win out, and the Tigers will be successful in keeping another four-star close to home.

OT Matt Womack | Senatobia, Miss.


Alabama’s side: The opposite of Charlot, LSU awarded Womack with the offer this summer while ‘Bama backed off until September. Since, however, Saban and company have gone all-in on the Mississippian and even tabbed him as the top offensive tackle on the board.

LSU’s side: LSU was the first major school to extend an offer to Womack, and that ultimately paid off. Womack committed in July and continues to reaffirm the strength of that pledge. But several schools have taken notice since, namely Alabama and nearby Ole Miss. He’s talked about taking official visits elsewhere, so LSU has had to ensure Womack knows just how big a priority he is. Les Miles and Jeff Grimes recently had an in-home visit with him, as he’s signed to enroll early.

John’s prediction: LSU. There’s some wiggle room here, as there is still an enrollment timetable decision to be made, but many teams are now trying to get into the mix for the big tackle. A busy fall will present plenty of options, but LSU’s earlier-than-most faith could help the Tigers win another close one over Alabama.

Hunter’s prediction: Womack will end up sticking with the Tigers, but not without a decent sweat. Assuming he stays the course with his plans to enroll early, that should keep him with the school that first showed him the love. The bigger threat comes from Ole Miss, but I expect Womack to stay true to his word.

LB Adonis Thomas | Lawrenceville, Ga.


Alabama’s side: Both before he narrowly committed to Florida over UA in August and especially since he backed off of the pledge, Alabama has prioritized the do-everything ‘backer as its next versatile inside linebacker talent. The Tide is likely to have him on campus last on campus, in a string of multiple late fall visits, which could seal the deal.

LSU’s side: Most of LSU’s momentum with Thomas has come within the last few weeks. He’s expected to take an unofficial visit this weekend and an official trip in December. LSU’s even sent an assistant to his school within the last week to show just how important he is, with the Tigers desperate for linebackers in this class.

John’s prediction: ‘Bama. Thomas wants stability and the ability to play sooner rather than later, and the Alabama linebacker corps will be depleted next fall to the point that JUCO prospects are becoming legit options. UA has been the most consistent school with its level of interest in Thomas throughout the process.

Hunter’s prediction: I expect Alabama to eventually win this. Considering they were an early contender the first time through his recruitment, the Tide have always been heavy on his mind. That familiarity combined with Alabama’s need should help them land this four-star prospect.


Both schools want five-star CB Kendall Sheffield

CB Kendall Sheffield | Houston, Texas


Alabama’s side: Alabama signed Tony Brown in 2014, a five-star cornerback who had world-class track speed as well. It learned how to sell both sports at once with fellow five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey, in the same cycle, which can only help with Sheffield. Fellow Texan-turned-Tider Maurice Smith is a close friend of Sheffield’s, too, and initial favorite Texas A&M’s fall hasn’t helped his desire to stay in-state.

LSU’s side: The Tigers have been a legitimate contender for Sheffield since April, when he attended the LSU Spring Game. The DBU reputation has really resonated with him, and he’s set to take his third trip to Baton Rouge this weekend in the last seven months. LSU already has a five-star corner committed in Kevin Toliver, but adding Sheffield would be a coup for the Tigers.

John’s prediction: Sheffield is easily the quietest prospect on this list, often keeping things close to the vest, but he’s the only defensive back Alabama is actively recruiting at this time, which is a usual hit scenario for Saban. Sheffield makes it three straight years that UA plucks a five-star Texan late in the game.

Hunter’s prediction: This one’s incredibly hard to predict. Both LSU and Alabama have legitimate claims to the top of his list, as does a nearby school like Texas A&M. I’ll agree with John though and peg him to the Tide, largely because they have a more inviting depth chart for Sheffield than LSU.

DE CeCe Jefferson | Glen Saint Mary, Fla.


Alabama’s side: Jefferson has become quite familiar with Tuscaloosa, and he views the JACK linebacker position as a perfect fit for his services. A return-trip before the cycle is out could make things interesting since he’s already officially visited Alabama.

LSU’s side: LSU has eyed Jefferson for quite some time and hosted him for a visit this summer. He’s planning to return to campus this weekend for an unofficial and plans to also take an official to Baton Rouge later in the cycle. LSU has a big need for defensive ends, and adding this five-star would be huge for the Tigers.

John’s prediction: Neither. The Florida Gators have been the favorite for the area-standout for some time, and it may not matter who the coach is when all is said and done.

Hunter’s prediction: Florida will be tough to beat, but if Will Muschamp does indeed lose his job, I’ll give LSU a very real chance. But as John said, his comfort and familiarity with Florida may not require Muschamp to be the coach, and I expect him to be a Gator regardless.

DE Kyle Phillips | Nashville, Tenn.


Alabama’s side: Alabama has been in on Phillips for some time, and has a need or a versatile defensive end type. Offseason visits seemed to have had a big effect on the four-star from Nashville, but plenty of other programs have made up ground this fall.

LSU’s side: LSU had a claim to the top spot in his recruitment after a summer visit. Schools like Ole Miss and Tennessee caught up, but Phillips returned two weeks ago for his official visit to LSU. He called that the best visit he’s ever taken, and that has the Tigers feeling very optimistic as he nears a final decision.

John’s prediction: Phillips may be the toughest one to peg at this time, but he could be the latest from the Volunteer State to jump on the Ole Miss bandwagon. The Rebels have had him on campus of late and have prioritized him as some other have wavered.

Hunter’s prediction: I’m going to peg Phillips to LSU. John Chavis has made him a major priority, and with a clear opportunity to play as a freshman, the Tigers are in prime shape to land this four-star pass rusher.


LSU and Alabama are already fighting for CB Shyheim Carter

MORE BATTLES TO COME


We’ll probably be writing a very similar piece this time next year. The LSU-Alabama recruiting shows no signs of slowing down, and may actually grow more intense in the 2016 class.

In fact, it’s already started with one particular junior. Shyheim Carter, from Kentwood, La., first received an offer from the Tide, and he didn’t waste much time committing in mid-July. LSU came through with its offer soon after, and that’s made for an interesting wrinkle. With so much time left in his recruitment things should only heat up between these two for Carter’s commitment.

Carter is one of many four-star prospects in Louisiana for the Class of 2016. While LSU has already jumped on all of them with offers, other schools from across the country are starting to take notice — namely Alabama. OT Willie Allen, DT Ed Alexander, RB/LB Devin White and DT Rashard Lawrence are all Louisiana recruits with serious interest coming from the Tide. 2017 LSU commit Dylan Moses also has an Alabama offer, and though he seems firm in his pledge, you know the Tide feel they have a lot of time to make that flip.

But it’s not just a matter of Alabama dipping into LSU’s backyard. The Tigers have targeted some from Alabama, with one big example being 2016 CB John Broussard. With strong family ties to Louisiana, the Tigers feel they have the leg up, and though Alabama hasn’t yet offered, one could come soon, which would make for a very interesting battle between the two.

So as you can see, the battle of LSU vs. Alabama will continue for years to come. With these two butting heads every year on the field, they’ll also fight on the recruiting trail in a game of tug of war with the nation’s best recruits.



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