5-star Lousiana WR has attracted plenty of attention from Alabama and LSU during his recruitment.
The LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide renew a storied SEC rivalry Saturday night, competing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, under the bright lights of Tiger Stadium. A rich history between these teams annually extends to the recruiting trail, where both programs have proven to be among college football’s elite closers on national signing day.
The landscape is quite different this time around, following the firing of LSU head coach Les Miles. The Tigers remain a top-25 team but face an Alabama squad listed No. 1 overall in College Football Playoff rankings.
Even if LSU fails to derail the Crimson Tide’s undefeated campaign, there are opportunities to beat head coach Nick Saban in the hunt for elite prospects—though it’s an arduous task. Here’s a look at six key recruits who’ve warranted widespread attention from both staffs and will likely be watching closely when they meet Saturday evening.
High School: Episcopal (Bellaire, Texas)
Size: 6’4″, 329 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 1 defensive tackle
The top-rated available uncommitted defensive linemen remains rather wide open three months shy of national signing day. Staff changes have altered Marvin Wilson‘s outlook at different stages of this cycle, including LSU’s dismissal of head coach Les Miles and the spring resignation of Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis.
The fate of Texas head coach Charlie Strong should also ultimately play a role in this recruitment, which includes schools such as Oklahoma and Florida State. Interim Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron—a highly respected defensive line assistant during multiple stops in his career— is among Wilson’s favorites on the recruiting trail, while first-year Crimson Tide defensive line coach Karl Dunbar is backed by a decade of strong NFL work.
“(Dunbar) came from somewhere I want to go,” Wilson told Drew Champlin of AL.com this summer. “That’s what sets him apart from a lot of coaches. He knows what NFL coaches want, what they need, their body type and everything. That’s what separates them from a lot of schools.
High School: Southern University Lab School (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Size: 6’4″, 233 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 5 outside linebacker
Chris Allen is essentially located in the neighborhood for LSU, but Alabama has always played a pivotal role in this process. He named the Crimson Tide an outright leader at one point in April, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com, though the Tigers essentially create a two-team race for his commitment.
Alabama has landed a pair of 5-star linebackers (Florida standout VanDarius Cowan and Baton Rouge native Dylan Moses) for the second consecutive cycle, though the Crimson Tide recently lost a verbal pledge from 4-star junior college linebacker Gary Johnson. Ultimately, like several recruiting battles that include LSU, the prospect’s focus will center on how university administration handles head coaching duties.
“I have always loved the thought of running out in Tiger Stadium, but the uncertainty of who will be the next head coach makes me question if this will be the place for me,” Allen told Hank South of 247Sports.
Until things are sorted out at LSU, Alabama may hold an advantage.
High School: Plaquemine (Plaquemine, Louisiana)
Size: 6’0″, 185 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 8 safety
This longtime in-state Tigers target undoubtedly understood early opportunities would be difficult to come by in LSU’s talent-laden defensive backfield. Then the situation grew even more crowded this year when top-tier projected safeties Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens committed.
There was plenty of buzz about an upcoming commitment before his senior season but Todd Harris extended his evaluation of programs, opening the door for Alabama to make a move. Though the Crimson Tide arguably boast college football’s deepest talent base at several positions, a discrepancy in the defensive secondary may help make a difference in this decision.
“I know (Alabama is) very short on defensive backs,” Harris told Chris Kirschner of SEC Country last month. “It’s a great opportunity for playing time and a freshman to get out there next year and ball out. 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,”
High School: Amite (Amite, Louisiana)
Size: 6’1″, 167 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 2 receiver
This recruitment was expected to be settled prior to Devonta Smith‘s senior campaign, but the prized pass-catcher opted to postpone his announcement in August after floods devastated Louisiana. Instead, the process is likely to go the distance and conclude with a national signing day (Feb. 1) decision, according to Sam Spiegelman of SEC Country.
Alabama, LSU and Miami remained in the mix before he bumped things back.
“To be honest, I don’t know [what will separate LSU, Alabama and Miami],” Smith told Spiegelman at the time. “I knew I was going to get up to the table [last week] and pick right then, and I wasn’t able to do that.”
You would’ve been hard-pressed to find an analyst at The Opening this summer who didn’t anticipate him to land in Tuscaloosa. Since then, LSU has dumped its head coach and offensive coordinator, seemingly strengthening the case for a Crimson Tide commitment.
High School: Neville (Monroe, Louisiana)
Size: 6’4″, 293 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 10 defensive tackle
Along with Lone Star State stud Marvin Wilson, Alabama defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has treated Phidarian Mathis as a priority at the tackle position. He emerged among the most coveted recruits in Louisiana this spring when Alabama and LSU joined several SEC squads in extending offers during a three-week span.
TCU is an alternative contender here but signs point toward a Crimson Tide-Tigers showdown for Mathis, who has 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks through eight games this season, per MaxPreps. He is expected to attend this weekend’s matchup, providing a greater glimpse of how each team operates along the defensive front.
Alabama is beginning to trend in Mathis’ 247Sports crystal ball and another dominant effort from the Crimson Tide could shift this sentiment further. Nick Saban secured blue-chip defensive back Hootie Jones from Neville High School in the 2014 recruiting cycle.
High School: IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)
Size: 6’2 ½”, 235 lbs
Scout.com Ranking: No. 1 outside linebacker
Dylan Moses gained national notoriety in middle school, securing offers from both Alabama and LSU before his first varsity tackle. The former University Lab School (Baton Rouge) standout announced intentions to play for the Tigers during his freshman season, but Les Miles was unable to keep that commitment intact and is now out of the equation.
Moses reopened his recruitment last summer and spent more than year undecided before switching allegiances to Alabama last month. Despite this development, no one expected LSU to end its pursuit, and the Tigers actually hosted him for an unofficial visit just two weeks later.
Moses, averaging 12.4 tackles per game this season, according to MaxPreps, admits his decision to choose the Crimson Tide was directly correlated with LSU leadership.
“That would have been the school I would have went to if Les Miles was still there,” he told Chris Kirschner of SEC Country. “It’s a done deal (now). He’s gone. I still have a relationship with him, but I haven’t spoken to him since he was fired. I’m still going to keep a close connection with him.”
Tyler Donohue is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings and information are courtesy of Scout.com.
Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.