Recruiting Battles: LSU vs. Alabama

Can LSU flip Cameron Robinson?

Alabama and LSU will take their rivalry to the field Saturday. But the war on the recruiting front lasts well after the final whistle. Scout recruiting analysts Hunter Paniagua and John Garcia Jr. break down the past, present and future between these SEC powerhouses on the recruiting trail.

THE HISTORY OF THE WAR

The Alabama-LSU recruiting war began in earnest with Nick Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Once he had a couple years to gain control of that program and start steering it in the right direction, he really ramped up the aggression on the recruiting trail. That obviously led him, among other places, straight to his old stomping grounds — Louisiana.

The walls Les Miles had built around his state could not keep out Saban, who left his mark in the Pelican State with the Class of 2009. Though that was actually one of the best classes LSU has assembled during Miles' tenure, Alabama started planting seeds of influence that it still harvests today.

LSU did come up with some big victories in 2009 when players like Rueben Randle and Barkevious Mingo waited until the very end but ultimately sided with the home team despite late official visits to Tuscaloosa.


LSU kept Rueben Randle close to home (USA Today)
While those two were certainly hits for LSU, one big miss has become a defining storyline from that class. Eddie Lacy, now with the Green Bay Packers, was a four-star running back from Dutchtown High School in Geismar, not far from Baton Rouge. But the LSU coaches had significant concerns about his grades and didn't feel like they could get him qualified.

Alabama accepted him anyway, Lacy found his way into school there and the rest is history.

Though losing a kid because of grades is understandable, Kenny Bell's recruitment that year left a little more sour taste. The four-star wide receiver from North Louisiana town Rayville was committed to LSU all the way into the final month of the recruiting cycle. Then Bell surprisingly flipped to the Tide and really started a period of instability for LSU in the northern half of the state.

Alabama hit again in North Louisiana in the Class of 2012, poaching linebacker Denzell Devall from Bastrop despite a late press from LSU. Devall has actually proven to be a thorn in LSU's side even now as he's been influential in the recruitment of 2014 prospects Hootie Jones and Cameron Robinson, who we'll get into later.


LSU countered the loss of Devall by invading Alabama's backyard for some elite talent. Kwon Alexander suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss most of his senior season. It also caused Alabama to back off him. LSU stuck with him though and gladly accepted his National Letter of Intent in February 2012. He's now gone on to become LSU's most consistent linebacker this season.


Landon Collins spurned LSU on national television (USA Today)
But the defining moment of the LSU-Alabama recruiting war came on Jan. 5, 2012. Landon Collins, a five-star prospect and Louisiana's No. 1 recruit, made a commitment to Alabama on national television during the Under-Armour game. His mother, April Justin, sat next to him and didn't try to hide her displeasure with her son's decision.

Four days later, Alabama thumped LSU in the BCS National Championship game, and the bad blood has only gotten warmer from there.

LSU did get a little revenge in 2013 when Kendell Beckwith stuck with LSU during a nationally televised announcement. But Alabama's presence in Louisiana remains strong, and the war shows no signs of slowing down.

---Hunter Paniagua



THE TOP FIVE BATTLES OF 2014

The Class of 2014 has been no exception to the craziness that envelops LSU-Alabama recruiting. Below are five of the biggest names that remain in the midst of a fierce battle between the Tigers and Tide. Each prospect is expected to be in Tuscaloosa this weekend as well to check out both teams in person. John Garcia Jr. and Hunter Paniagua break down each recruitment below and also provide their predictions for where each player ends up.

No. 5 S Hootie Jones - Monroe, La. (Neville HS)


Hootie Jones will decide on Nov. 25
John's Prediction: Alabama - Hootie is the toughest one to gauge on this list, present or future, so it's no surprise that both schools are predicted here. All signs pointed to Alabama once his initial commitment date was released, for mid-November, but the pushback of 10 more days to the 25th has many people wondering if it's a last-gasp move for the Tigers to salvage the only undeclared elite prospect with ties to the Monroe area. If not for his play on the field, LSU needs to keep Jones in-state to have a presence there and to disallow Alabama from landing Robinson, Sims, Jones and even Monroe native Ronnie  Clark from the area, all four-stars or better, in the class of 2014. A clean sweep would all but give up the area in theory, and even when Alabama is the competitor, no major program can afford that in-state situation. Still, Alabama is said to be as consistent with him as any program, his area-mates seem as solid as can be with their pledges to the Crimson Tide and even new buddy C.J. Hampton (discussed in-depth later), is seemingly on board not only with Saban, but playing with Jones at Alabama. LSU will make a valiant effort late, likely with another visit, but the scales may be tipped in the Tide's favor too much for him to end up elsewhere.

Hunter's Prediction: LSU - If Hootie had stuck with his original decision date of Nov. 15, my prediction likely would have been different. Instead, LSU is still expected to get the final crack at Hootie during an official visit for the Texas A&M game on Nov. 23, two days before his scheduled decision date. Most feel that family influence is really helping the Tigers in this instance, particularly his relationship with his mother. That should play a big role in his decision and seems to be pushing the Tigers in the right direction. Anything can happen, though, and nobody's ruling out another change in his decision time frame. But at least for now, LSU seems to be doing everything right.

No. 1 OT Cameron Robinson - West Monroe, La. (West Monroe HS)

John's Prediction: Alabama - Robinson was, like most elites from either state, just about 50/50 with vast knowledge and visits under his belt at each school until the summer of 2013. Taking many trips with fellow commitment Cameron Sims, also from Monroe, Alabama began to separate itself and really didn't look back despite the No. 1 offensive tackle in America keeping the decision to himself until the fall. LSU will stay on him, and why wouldn't they? But in the end, based on his comfort with his decision and relief with the process over with, it would actually be considered an upset if Robinson flips to the home-state program. That's how far this recruiting rivalry has become. Barring an official visit to LSU, which is always possible, the commitment should hold up through Feburary.

Hunter's Prediction: Alabama - Robinson's recruitment is proof that nothing is ever finished between LSU and Alabama until the name is signed on the dotted line. Though LSU began reaching out to other offensive linemen after his commitment, the Tigers' coaches never shut off communication with the nation's best lineman. LSU really reopened the door when it sent defensive line coach Brick Haley into Monroe as the lead recruiter. Most feel that Robinson is at least still entertaining the idea of visiting Baton Rouge officially later this month. If that happens, don't rule out the Tigers. But all the reasons Robinson picked Alabama in the first place are still in play, and that still appears to be enough to send him out of the state.

No. 1 RB Leonard Fournette - New Orleans, La. (St. Augustine HS)


Leonard Fournette has been down to LSU, Alabam for quite some time
John's Prediction: LSU - Les Miles and company are the only program to be in on the top prospect in the country longer than Alabama has, and for good reason. While Alabama took four of the top 15 running backs in the class of 2013 on signing day, redshirting two and playing a pair this fall, LSU calmly allowed elite talents to ink elsewhere because of the long-standing plan of handing Fournette significant playing time as soon as he arrives on campus. The plan is working, and while Burton Burns has done about as well as he could on Fournette's trail for the out-of-state program, the script "A" on his polo will likely be the main reason he doesn't help land the supreme talent. The five-star signing anywhere in America not named LSU would likely be the biggest head-scratcher among plenty of recruiting storylines nationally in the class of 2014.

Hunter's Prediction: LSU - The Tigers have felt like they were in the driver's seat since offering the young phenom as a freshman in high school. Alabama's always been in the picture though, leaving LSU fans uneasy about losing the No. 1 overall prospect. But Fournette has extremely close relationships with many LSU commits, current Tigers and the coaching staff. Fournette plays it close to the vest, but based on those connections and the amount of comfort he's shown at LSU, all signs continue to point to Baton Rouge, and it would be a surprise at this point if he picks Alabama.

No. 10 S CJ Hampton - Meridian, Miss. (Meridian HS)

John's Prediction: Alabama - Ole Miss has had him committed for about two years, and he was the programs' first class of 2014 pledge, but the proximity to Tuscaloosa is something he's taken advantage of over the last 18 months and Nick Saban has sold him playing time based on his versatility ever since. A safety that has range, good ball skills and a more-physical presence as time progresses, he fits multiple roles on Saban's unit. Ironically, Hootie Jones is being sold the same thing and during camp this summer the two were sold on it together, as in playing together, and have been close ever since. Hampton has been to Tuscaloosa nearly as much as Oxford and knows he's atop the Crimson Tide's safety board, something tough for any defensive back to pass up. LSU has been pushing a bit more of late, however, and he hasn't ruled out taking an extended trip to Baton Rouge, which can change things if buddy Hootie ends up pledging there later in November.


Hunter's Prediction: Alabama - LSU entered the picture late for CJ Hampton and at this point really isn't a major player in his recruitment. But the Tigers are working to get the Ole Miss commit on an official visit to Baton Rouge, which would at least provide an opening for the Tigers to work. LSU would obviously love to get involved with one of Alabama's top targets, as that's a common back-and-forth in these recruiting battles. But until a visit actually happens, LSU is on the outside looking in and if anyone's going to steal Hampton away from the Rebels, it's more than likely going to be Alabama.

No. 1 CB Tony Brown - Beaumont, Texas (Ozen HS)


Tony Brown will take an official visit to Tuscaloosa this weekend
John's Prediction: LSU - Though Brown has set up an official visit to Tuscaloosa for this rivalry weekend, LSU remains the favorite for his signature. Most know that his sister, Bealoved Brown, is enrolled at LSU on a track scholarship, and Mrs. Brown is pushing for her track star children to attend the same institution. Brown's father is more open to Alabama as long as Nick Saban remains at the helm, but it's seemingly a classic "two against one" at the surface of the battle in favor of LSU. Brown's quiet nature with the media doesn't help us keep up with him day-to-day, but the Tigers remain the steady favorite to land America's top cornerback and No. 3 overall prospect. In what's become a usual case no matter which team has the lead for these elites, the Tide will run second here.

Hunter's Prediction: LSU - The Tigers are in a similarly comfortable situation with Brown as they are with Fournette. LSU has built such a strong relationship with Brown that dates back to his early days in high school. Factor in his desire to run track for a successful program, and that's another feather in the Tigers' cap. Then there's his sister Bealoved, who started with the Tigers track team this past semester. Family's incredibly important to Brown, and that all just seems like too much for Alabama or any other program to overcome.


WHERE THE WAR WILL GO NEXT

2015 DB Shawn Burgess-Becker - Alabama was first to offer the two-way South Florida standout, but several top programs jumped in soon after, including LSU. With the three major powers in the Sunshine State on his trail as much as any program, it could be tough getting him into the SEC West in the first place. However, he has already seen Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge, and both programs remain steady in his top five with, you guessed it, Miami, Florida and Florida State. He and fellow four-star teammate Calvin Ridley saw the Seminoles and Hurricanes last week, and he'll see two more of his top five this coming weekend in Tuscaloosa.

2016 RB Devin White - Again, some of the first pair of programs on the offer sheet for the sophomore were LSU and Alabama, with the home-state program jumping in first while Saban's offer came down this summer at camp. White is in a unique position compared to most others on this list, and it's because of his position on the field. Scout.com considers him an early four-star running back, but at 6-foot-2, 223 pounds, how he maintains his body may not only determine where he lines up at either school, but how hard he is pusued by each program. Those two factors alone give home-state LSU the early advantage, but Saban and company will keep up with him just as much over the next 24 months.


High school freshman Dylan Moses is already committed to LSU
2017 RB/LB Dylan Moses - You'd never guess the first two programs to offer Moses before he stepped foot on a high school field...The Tigers were in on him early, which makes sense considering he lives down the block from campus in Baton Rouge, and the Tide followed over the summer while he worked out as a defensive back at camp. Many other programs nationally jumped in on Moses, but it was clearly an LSU-'Bama battle all the way through. After achieving national attention with his freakish 6-foot-2, 220-plus pound frame at such a young age, and taking in several schools including the top two multiple times, Moses got the green light from Miles and company and he and his father wasted no time pulling the trigger to the school they have always loved. It doesn't mean the champs won't stay on him, especially with more than three years before he inks a letter of intent, but the Tiger grip on this one is very strong.

2016 WR Darnell Salomon - Another class of 2016 standout, and another early four-star, is Salomon. The Miami-native camped at both programs over the summer and added offers from each in the process. A projected wide receiver at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, his recruitment is just now taking off as in-state schools play catch up with the SEC powers already in on him. With seemingly no rush to get the process over with, Salomon is a prime example of a prospect that will largely be influenced by what he currently sees more so than the past, which makes the Alabama - LSU rivalry that much more juicy and even more important.

---John Garcia Jr.



WINNING SATURDAY WILL HELP … WIN THE WAR


LSU - The Tigers need to emerge from Saban's shadow, and winning Saturday would really help them do that. Though Miles has beaten Saban in two of the last three regular season matchups, Alabama has the hardware. While national championship aspirations are over for LSU this season, the Tigers can still spoil Alabama's. Preventing the Tide from collecting any more crystal footballs will remove one of Alabama's strongest recruiting pitches against the Tigers. Overcoming that almighty Alabama hurdle on the field will only provide LSU with more ammo to beat the Tide off it as well. ---Hunter Paniagua

ALABAMA - Winning is everything, and in the minds of teenagers, the present is everything. Especially for those in attendance at Bryant-Denny on Saturday, those impressions will be the ones they take with them going forward in the process despite the past. For LSU, it's important to knock off the champs in general, as nobody has done enough over the last three seasons to slow the pace of a national title. Can 2013 be that year for LSU? It would make the rivalry even more historic, though one could argue that it already tops college football at the moment. For those same reasons, the pressure remains on Alabama to maintain its dominance over everyone, often beginning with Saban's former school, LSU. ---John Garcia Jr.

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