Alabama-LSU rivalry heats up on signing day

Updated: February 5, 2009, 3:47 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- On signing day, LSU and Alabama could both claim to be No. 1.

On the field, the Tigers and Crimson Tide are poised to battle for the top spot in the SEC West for years -- and there's no sharing those trips to the Southeastern Conference title game.

LSU and Alabama jockeyed for the top spot in the recruiting rankings Wednesday, with Nick Saban's Tide closing strong and even getting one Louisiana star to switch from purple and gold to crimson and white on signing day.

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

Rivals.com and Allen Wallace of Scout.com and SuperPrep gave Alabama the top spot, just ahead of LSU.

As if LSU fans needed another reason to seethe about Saban. The former Tigers coach needed just two seasons in Tuscaloosa to wrest the SEC West away from Les Miles' team and won his first visit to Baton Rouge with the Tide.

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

Now, just when Miles and LSU appeared primed to be crowned the undisputed kings of recruiting for 2009, Saban swooped in and grabbed some of the spotlight.

Several talented players who entered Wednesday 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.com, 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 players, 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," said Allen Wallace of Scout.com and SuperPrep Magazine. "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.

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 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.

The next meeting on the field between Alabama and LSU is Nov. 7 in Tuscaloosa.

Of course both will have to contend with defending national champion Florida just to win an SEC title 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.

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

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.

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AP Sports Writers John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla.; and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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