Top-ranked Alabama travels to Tiger Stadium on Saturday to take on No. 15 LSU in what has become one of the biggest games annually on the college football stage.
The game has deep meaning in terms of the Crimson Tide’s attempt to repeat as national champions and as LSU looks to keep its playoff hopes alive and, perhaps more significant, determine its next head coach.
Besides the on-the-field battle, LSU and Alabama find themselves in tight battles for a number of the nation’s top remaining 2017 recruits. Here’s a look at some of the elite prospects who are deciding between the Tigers and Tide — plus our take from LSU recruiting writer Sam Spiegelman and Alabama recruiting writer Chris Kirschner.
Position: 4-star WR
Hometown: Amite, La.
LSU take: Smith is Louisiana’s top prospect, so nabbing him is a priority. LSU entered the mix once Dameyune Craig was added to the staff. The team gained steam after opening up the offense in recent weeks. The elite wide receiver visited Tiger Stadium for the Ole Miss win and will be on hand for the Saturday night tilt against ‘Bama. LSU quietly is generating momentum with Smith as his commitment on National Signing Day nears, though the Tide long have been considered the front-runners. However, if LSU continues to make strides on offense, then it will only improve its chances of adding one of the nation’s top playmakers. – Spiegelman
Alabama take: When Smith de-committed from Georgia in January, Alabama was deemed the team to beat because of his connections to the school. Assistant director of player personnel Sam Petitto was a mentor to Smith when he was a child. Petitto got his coaching start at Amite High School. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was one of Smith’s primary recruiters. Wide receivers coach Billy Napier has gotten close with Smith, and freshman defensive back Shyheim Carter is one of Smith’s best friends. He’s one of the biggest locks for Alabama’s class. No source I’ve talked to on the Tide side of things is worried one bit about losing one of the nation’s top receivers. – Kirschner
Position: 4-star DB
Hometown: Plaquemine, La.
LSU take: LSU holds commitments from two of the nation’s premier safeties — Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens — but continues to save room in the 2017 class for Harris. Louisiana’s top-ranked defensive back maintains a strong bond with secondary coach Corey Raymond, who has visited the highly touted safety and been a regular in Death Valley for multiple games this fall. Harris is set to commit at the Under Armour All-America Game and decide between LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. There are plenty of reasons to be confident that Harris stays in The Boot. LSU has a major need at safety, with Rickey Jefferson set to graduate and Jamal Adams likely to the NFL. Harris represents the future of the LSU secondary.
Alabama take: Safety is one of Alabama’s biggest needs in the Class of 2017, and Harris is near the top of the Tide’s wish list. As Sam mentioned, LSU has two commitments from two of the nation’s best safeties. Alabama has none, and Harris knows that. He recently told me this when it comes to his thoughts on LSU’s depth at safety: “I still feel like I am a top target for (LSU), but if they don’t get me, they do have two solid safety commitments already, so I don’t think they’re too worried.” That’s surely an interesting quote.
Position: 4-star LB
Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
LSU take: Alabama long had been the leader for Allen, one of the country’s top edge rushers, but LSU began to garner momentum after Bradley Dale Peveto stepped in as his primary recruiter. That occurred during the summer when Allen made another trip to nearby LSU for prospect camp. He’s since returned for multiple games this fall. The 4-star prospect is being courted as an inside backer on early downs, then an outside backer in passing situations. Allen, who has spent much of his life in Baton Rouge, named LSU and ‘Bama his co-leaders, with a decision expected on Signing Day. Allen is a priority recruit at a major position of need for the Tigers and a must-get in this class.
Alabama take: I’ve talked to a source very close to Allen lately who told me that despite the talented linebacker naming Alabama and LSU his co-leaders, the Tide hold the lead in his recruitment. Allen told SEC Country recently that out of all the coaches he communicates with, he’s closest to Alabama outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi, who has made Allen one of his top priorities. Even if LSU’s staff stays put heading into 2017, Alabama is the team to beat here.
Dylan Moses (Alabama commit)
Position: 5-star LB
Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
LSU take: Perhaps the most interesting name included on this list, Moses ended his recruitment by committing to Alabama on his first official visit of the fall. That puts the onus on LSU to try to change his mind with only a month before he signs his financial-aid papers to enroll early. Since committing, the 5-star linebacker has visited LSU to check in on Ed Orgeron and has received a visit from his uncle, Raymond, and Craig, LSU’s recruiting coordinator. Moses is teammates with Delpit and Jhamon Ausbon, who will lend a hand in trying to flip the all-world recruit. While the LSU staff has work to do, there is a quiet sense of confidence that Moses will wind up as a Tiger.
Alabama take: Alabama remains confident that it keeps Moses’ commitment through January, which is when he’ll enroll in school. Obviously, there was cause for concern when Moses made a surprise visit to LSU last month, less than two weeks after making his shocking commitment. It also would be a shocker to see him flip his commitment. Though there are multiple LSU commits at IMG Academy, which is where Moses plays, there are two Alabama commitments on the team, too. Long snapper Thomas Fletcher, who took an official visit to Tuscaloosa with Moses, and 2019 commit Trey Sanders, are solid with Alabama.
Position: 4-star DL
Hometown: Ruston, La.
LSU take: Buggs has come close to committing on numerous occasions since the summer. He will make more visits before finalizing his decision. The top junior-college defensive lineman has made several visits to LSU, which is just down the road from his hometown in Northern Louisiana. Buggs’ primary recruiters are Orgeron and Peveto, who hosted the 4-star recruit for the Missouri game last month. The goal is to get Buggs back on campus and show him he can have an instant impact on LSU’s defensive line. Buggs’ ties to Louisiana and Orgeron make him a likely Tiger by Signing Day.
Alabama take: Alabama is one of Buggs’ top schools, but until he actually visits Tuscaloosa, he can’t be considered a legitimate target for the Tide. Adding quality defensive linemen is Alabama’s top priority in the Class of 2017. Buggs is one of the Tide’s top targets, but there’s about a zero percent chance he chooses Alabama because he still hasn’t visited.
Position: 4-star DL
Hometown: Monroe, La.
LSU take: One of the prized defensive line recruits in the class, Mathis named LSU, Alabama and TCU as his finalists. It’s truly a two-team race between the two SEC West powers. Orgeron is handling Mathis’ recruitment, and it helps that his former Neville High teammate, Rashard Lawrence, is already on campus at LSU. Mathis hears from the LSU and ‘Bama staffs daily and will decide his future after his senior season. It’s a bit of a coin toss between LSU and Alabama because LSU has focused most of its attention on other defensive linemen like Buggs and Marvin Wilson.
Alabama take: That last portion above is key when it comes to Alabama’s chances with Mathis. Buggs and Wilson are not serious targets for the Tide now. Mathis is. He told SEC Country a few months back that Alabama was recruiting him the hardest. Napier and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar have tag-teamed Mathis’ recruitment and have made him one of the team’s top targets. He’s one of the uncommitted targets I am most confident with in projecting in the Tide’s class now.