‘Bama-LSU rivalry heats up on signing day

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, February 4, 2009

NEW YORK — These days, the Alabama-LSU rivalry is revved-up year round.

The Tigers and Tide tussled for the top spot in the recruiting rankings Wednesday, with Nick Saban and ‘Bama closing strong and even getting one Louisiana star to switch from purple and gold to crimson and white on signing day.

As if LSU fans needed another reason to seethe about Saban, the former Tigers coach who needed just two seasons in Tuscaloosa to wrest the SEC West away from Les Miles’ team.

Alabama went 11-2 last season and played for the Southeastern Conference championship, while LSU disappointed and finished 8-5 the season after winning the national championship in 2007.

On signing day, LSU and Alabama went at it again.

Rivals.com and Allen Wallace of Scout.com and SuperPrep Magazine gave Alabama their top spots, both just ahead of LSU.

LSU was No. 1 in the Scouts, Inc./ESPN rankings, with Alabama second. Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports also had LSU on top, with ‘Bama fifth.

Few coaches are as relentless as Saban and Miles when it comes to recruiting.

“They both have similar styles in that it’s fight to the whistle,” Bobby Burton of Rivals.com said. “Both of them really take it seriously from start to finish.

“They both need to keep each other at bay.”

The next meeting on the field between the burgeoning rivals is Nov. 7 in Tuscaloosa.

The other schools vying for the top spot were mostly the usual suspects: Southern California, Texas and Ohio State.

Florida coach Urban Meyer didn’t have many scholarships to hand out — most of his national championship team will be back next season — but what his class lacked in quantity it made up in quality.

One newcomer to the top-10: North Carolina, with coach Butch Davis. The Tar Heels haven’t had this type of recruiting success since Mack Brown was in Chapel Hill in the late 1990s.

Coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season at Michigan was a 3-9 debacle, but his first recruiting class drew top-10 rankings.

And one of the best running back prospects in the country decided NOT to sign a letter of intent on Wednesday. Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., who has given a verbal commitment to Miami, plans to mull his decision over for a few more weeks. Oregon and Kansas State are apparently still in the running.

LSU appeared to be on its way to being crowned the recruiting champion for 2009 early Wednesday, but several talented players who entered the day uncommitted picked Alabama and the Tide rose up the charts.

“We were able to attract maybe a half-dozen other players that weren’t committed to us that were outstanding national recruits,” Saban said. “During the thick of it, at the end with a bunch of national recruits, you’re going to get your share. We felt like we got our share today.”

The most notable was Dre Kirkpatrick, rated the No. 1 cornerback in the country by Rivals, who decided to stay close to his Gadsden, Ala., home and play for Saban.

Five-star prospects D.J. Fluker, an offensive lineman, and Nico Johnson, a linebacker, also stayed in state and honored their verbal commitments to the Tide. Saban again landed most of Alabama’s top prospects, which surely won’t sit well at Auburn.

Prized running back Trent Richardson from Pensacola, Fla., picked the Tide over Florida and LSU.

“If he had gone (to LSU) I might have switched LSU to No. 1 instead of Alabama,” Wallace said. “That’s how close it is at the top.”

Alabama also persuaded four-star wide receiver Kenny Bell, from Rayville, La., to make a signing day switch and abandon his verbal commitment to LSU.

The Tigers got bad news on Bell, but good news on Rueben Randle, Rivals’ No. 1 receiver prospect in the country. Randle, from Bastrop, La., hadn’t made a verbal commitment and had Alabama among his final choices. He’s headed to Baton Rouge, along with most of the best players in Louisiana.

Miles also reached into Texas for a couple of stars. Safety Craig Loston from Aldine and dual-threat quarterback Russell Shepard from Houston were rated among the best in the country at their positions.

“Potentially, this is the style of class that competes for championships year after year,” Miles said.

Of course both Alabama and LSU will have to contend with Florida just to win an SEC championship in the coming years.

The Gators handed out 16 scholarships and lost out on some players late. But Florida’s class includes receiver Andre Debose of Sanford, Fla., Rivals’ No. 2 receiver in the country, and Jelani Jenkins, a top-rated linebacker from Olney, Md., who made up his mind Wednesday morning.

Meyer said Debose could replace Percy Harvin, the talented and multidimensional receiver who is entering the NFL draft as a junior.

“Watching (Debose) on film, for what we do, our style of offense, for what we need right now with the departure of Percy Harvin, that’s a critical element because we’re not going to change our offense,” Meyer said.

It was another successful signing day for Pete Carroll and USC. The Trojans’ latest heralded recruiting class features the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the country. Matt Barkley is from Mater Dei High School, the same southern California school that produced Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.

A list of Alabama football signees on Wednesday’s national signing day:

Jonathan Atchison, lb, 6-2, 220, Douglass HS, Atlanta

Kenny Bell, wr, 6-1, 170, Rayville (Ala.) HS

Chris Bonds, dl, 6-4, 280, Richland Northeast HS, Columbia, S.C.

Michael Bowman, wr, 6-4, 210, Ridgeland HS, Rossville, Ga.

…James Carpenter, ol, 6-5, 305, Coffeyville(Kan.) CC, Augusta, Ga.

Quinton Dial, dl, 6-5, 310, Clay-Chalkville HS, Pinson, Ala.

D.J. Fluker, ol, 6-5, 340, Foley (Ala.) HS

Nico Johnson, lb, 6-2, 225, Andalusia (Ala.) HS

Kendall Kelly, wr, 6-3, 215, Gadsden City (Ala.) HS

Dre Kirkpatrick, db, 6-3, 185, Gadsden City (Ala.) HS

Eddie Lacy, rb, 6-0, 210 Dutchtown HS, Geismar, La.

Mike Marrow, rb, 6-2, 240, Central Catholic, Holland, Ohio

A.J. McCarron, qb, 6-4, 190, Saint Paul’s Episcopal School, Mobile, Ala.

Darius McKeller, ol, 6-5, 280, Jonesboro (Ga.) HS

William Ming, dl, 6-3, 260, Athens (Ala.) HS

Brandon Moore, l, 6-5, 320, Carver HS, Montgomery, Ala.

…Kerry Murphy, dl, 6-5, 315, Hoover (Ala.) HS

Kevin Norwood, wr, 6-2,180, D’Iberville (HS) Miss.

Anthony Orr, dl, 6-5, 260, Sparkman HS, Madison, Ala.

Tana Patrick, lb, 6-2, 235, North Jackson HS, Bridgport, Ala.

…Jermaine Preyear, rb, 5-11, 205, Davidson HS, Mobile, Ala.

Trent Richardson, rb, 5-11, 220, Escambia HS, Pensacola, Fla.

Darrington Sentimore, dl, 6-2, 280, Destrahan HS,Norco, La.

Petey Smith, lb, 6-1, 245, Armwood HS, Tampa, Fla.

Anthony Steen, l, 6-3, 305, Lee Academy, Lambert, Miss.

Ed Stinson, dl/lb, 6-4, 240, South Dade HS, Homestead, Fla.

…Chance Warmack, ol, 6-3, 325, Westlake HS, Atlanta

Kellen Williams, ol, 6-3, 290, Brookwood HS, Lawrenceville, Ga.

Rod Woodson, db, 5-11, 200, Olive Branch (Miss.) HS

…_Denotes already enrolled.