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LSU’s free fall from a 15-0 national championship just two seasons ago in 2019 to 11-11 over the last two is one of the greatest collapses in college football history. The late Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger didn’t vanish quite so quickly.
But the Tigers’ descent in recruiting has been even more dramatic and significantly less gradual. LSU’s class of 2022 is ranked No. 34 by the Rivals.com rankings entering Wednesday’s early National Signing Day. That’s the Tigers’ worst ranking this century and nine spots below even Vanderbilt.
LSU has just 11 commitments to 24 by Vanderbilt. Just last year, then-LSU coach Ed Orgeron signed the No. 4 class in the nation and had signed the No. 3 and No. 4 classes in 2019 and ’20, respectively.
New coach Brian Kelly, who was hired on Nov. 29, has a lot of ground to make up, but he has few boots on the ground at the moment to help him. He has hired only three new coaches. He has not hired an offensive or defensive coordinator, so do not look for LSU to sign any surprise flips from other schools Wednesday as it has done in the past under Orgeron. If LSU signs the 11 commitments it has, that may be as good a day as it could hope for.
So far, the only assistant from Orgeron’s staff that Kelly has said he is keeping is offensive line coach Brad Davis, who will coach the Tigers (6-6) during bowl practices and in the Texas Bowl against Kansas State (7-5) on Jan. 4.
“What I tell all recruits in terms of them attending LSU is it’s never about one person,” Davis said on Tuesday. “LSU football is bigger than any coach that’s here now or has been here or will be here.”
Once more coaches are here, though, LSU could rise to less embarrassing recruiting numbers and rankings by the second signing date on Feb. 2.
“The brand itself, the university, what it stands for, the opportunity to run out that tunnel in Death Valley, that’s something that really no recruit should ever pass up,” Davis, a Baton Rouge native, said.
But they are.
The Tigers do have a 5-star (highest possible rating) commitment in Walker Howard — the No. 2 pro style quarterback in the nation from St. Thomas More High in Lafayette. And they have five 4-star commitments. Vanderbilt has 20 3-star commitments and only one 4-star prospect pledged, but the Commodores more than double LSU’s total. That explains the higher ranking.
LSU currently has the No. 6 signing class in the SEC West ahead of only No. 39 Ole Miss.
Here is a look at the rest of the SEC West entering Signing Day with Rivals.com rankings:
Alabama (Ranked No. 2)
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has signed seven No. 1 classes since 2011, but he has met his match in Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who has the No. 1 class now and had that in 2018, ’19 and ’20. Alabama has only one five-star prospect, No. 1 weak side defensive end Jeremiah Alexander of Thompson High in Alabaster, Alabama. But it has the nation’s most four-star prospects with 17 out of its 21 commitments. Look for Saban to try to pull more players out of Louisiana while LSU plays catch-up like it hasn’t since Gerry DiNardo was the coach.
Texas A&M (Ranked No. 3)
Coach Jimbo Fisher is putting together his fourth straight class ranked No. 6 or higher. He has a pair of 5-star prospects — No. 1 defensive tackle Walter Nolen from Powell, Tennessee, and No. 3 wide receiver Evan Stewart of Frisco, Texas. But Tennessee is making a late push for Nolen. There are 15 4-star commitments out of the Aggies’ 21 total. Fisher needs to start finishing as high in the College Football Playoff rankings as he has been in the recruiting rankings. That loss to LSU was inexcusable.
Arkansas (Ranked No. 14)
Coach Sam Pittman has dramatically turned the Razorbacks’ recruiting. Arkansas was No. 41 just two years ago and No. 61 in 2018 before a No. 25 last year and the jump to No. 14 at the moment with 20 commitments — a dozen 3-star prospects, though, with six 4-star commitments.
Auburn (Ranked No. 30)
New coach Bryan Harsin is finding his new environs difficult in more ways than one after a 6-6 finish. He has eight 4-stars and seven 3-stars in his total of 15 commitments. Like LSU, Auburn must make up some serious ground between now and Feb. 2.
Mississippi State (Ranked No. 33)
Second-year coach Mike Leach has the Bulldogs at 7-5 and Liberty Bowl bound after a 4-7 opening campaign. But it is not happening yet on the recruiting trail as Leach has 11 3-star commitments out of 16 commitments.
Ole Miss (Ranked No. 39)
This is the most disappointing ranking in the SEC, considering second-year coach Lane Kiffin has the Rebels ranked No. 9 with a 10-2 mark and headed to the Sugar Bowl against No. 7 Baylor on Jan. 1. Ole Miss had previously never won 10 regular season games.
And all the Rebels have is four 4-star prospects and 10 3-star commitments. Kiffin hasn’t had a foot out the door, has he?