Alabama looks tided over
SEC rival LSU stiff challenger
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 yesterday, 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 Southeastern Conference West away from Les Miles's Tigers.
Alabama went 11-2 last season and played for the SEC title, while LSU disappointed and finished 8-5 the season after winning the national championship.
Few coaches are as relentless as Saban and Miles when it comes to recruiting.
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, now the Texas coach, was in Chapel Hill in the late 1990s.
Rich Rodriguez's first season at Michigan was a 3-9 debacle, but his first recruiting class drew top-10 rankings.
And the top running back prospect in the country decided not to sign a letter of intent. Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., who has given a verbal commitment to Miami, plans to mull his decision 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 yesterday, but several talented players who entered the day uncommitted picked Alabama and the Tide rose up the charts.
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.
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. Five-star running back Trent Richardson from Pensacola, Fla., picked the Tide over Florida and LSU.
Of course, Alabama and LSU will have to contend with Florida just to win an SEC crown.
The Gators handed out 16 scholarships and lost out on some players late. But Florida's class includes receiver Andre Debose of Sanford, Fla., rated the second best at his position in the country by Rivals, and Gary Brown of Quincy, Fla., Rivals' No. 3 defensive tackle.
Manti T'eo from Honolulu, a top-rated linebacker, surprised many experts by picking Notre Dame over USC and UCLA.