Is LSU's Loss UT's Gain?

Now that LSU's Nick Saban has decided to accept Miami's offer to coach the Fish, UT coach Phillip Fulmer may be in the ideal position to land some prize catches for the Vols.

Three big ones that may have got away with Saban no longer at LSU's helm one year removed from winning a national title are offensive linemen — Michael Oher, Chris Scott and Josh McNeil.

Oher, 6-5, 330, of Memphis Briarcrest is rated the nation's No. 5 offensive lineman by Scott, 6-2, 315, of Lovejoy, Ga., is ranked No. 10 among the O-linemen in the Class of 2005, and McNeil, 6-4, 285, of Collins, Miss., is the nation's No. 13 rated lineman and the top rated center in his class.

Scott has narrowed his decision to Tennessee and LSU telling's Scott Kennedy. "I'm down to LSU and Tennessee. I'm still looking at Georgia and Florida, so they're not out of it, but it's pretty much LSU and Tennessee right now."

McNeil is considering LSU, Tennessee and Mississippi State where his brother, Chris McNeil, Jr., is the starting center entering his senior season next fall. When last interviewed on the subject a week ago, Dec. 20, McNeil said the three schools were "dead even" and that he didn't have a timetable for reaching his decision. He had also considered Florida and USC before trimming his list of prospective colleges to three.

UT coaches see McNeil as a possible four-year starter given his extensive playing experience at center, a position that requires a player to make line calls and adjustments on virtually every play. McNeil is also an excellent deep snapper and never allowed a single sack during his four years as a starter.

"I pretty much have known how to be a center since Pee Wee football," McNeil told this writer. "My dad was my coach and my brother is the starting center at Mississippi State so I've got a whole line of that going in the family.

"I think it's real hard for people to learn how to play center because when they get down there, they're all worried about snapping the ball and they kind of just stand there. You've got to snap the ball and block your man. I think from that standpoint it's a lot harder for people to learn how to do it. If you're playing guard or tackle you can just fire off, get your hands on them and drive them, but at center you're probably a half second behind and you have to make up for that."

Another big catch that could come Tennessee's way due in part to Saban's departure is No. 6 cornerback Bryan Evans of Jacksonville Ed White High School in Florida. The 5-foot-11, 177-pound DB has 4.45 speed and had whittled his choices to LSU, Tennessee and Georgia. LSU was thought to have a narrow lead given Saban's reputation for building top defenses, but that has likely changed now.

"I think this will probably make it easier for me now," he said in an interview with this writer on Monday. "They were one of my top three so it's down to two now. I've already visited Tennessee but I don't visit Georgia until the 21st of January."

Coach Jimmy Ray Stephens is recruiting Evans for Tennessee and the Vols would be in a good position to further strengthen a weak secondary with Evan's signature.

"I think it's an opportunity to play early," he said of UT. "They've got a young team so they will be real competitive next year bringing back so many players. It seems like every year they have a chance of at least going to the national championship. That's another thing that interest me about Tennessee."

As a senior Evans intercepted five passes returning two for touchdowns. An excellent return specialist he also returned a punt for a score last season and took four the distance as a junior. He recorded 47 tackles, recovered two fumbles and caused one. He accounted for 770 yards receiving and running with five more TDs.

A track standout with a 10.68 time in the 100 meters, excellent acceleration and superb transition skills, Evans is regarded as one of the best cover corners in the country. He has been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next month in San Antonio.

Several other top prospects that were considering Tennessee as well as LSU include: No. 3 defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, No. 6 defensive end Raymond Henderson, No. 3 wide receiver Patrick Turner, No. 8 wide receiver O.J. Murdock, No. 16 cornerback Derek Pegues, No. 20 wide receiver Slick Shelly and No. 20 defensive end Gerald Williams.

LSU has already assembled a list of prospective replacements for Saban and are expected to name a successor by Jan. 2. Even with a high-profile choice in place by then it will be hard for the Tigers to recover in the 2005 recruiting campaign, considering the head start enjoyed by its competitors in the vital relationship building process.

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