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LSU head coach Ed Orgeron on the field before kickoff against Notre Dame, Monday, January 1, 2018, in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

“They win championships, and I want to be a part of that.”

That national signing day quote from Patrick Surtain explained in 12 words why he chose to sign with Alabama over LSU on Wednesday.

And it explains as well as anything the uphill climb LSU and Ed Orgeron face in their quest to restore LSU to the top of the national football world.

Surtain was LSU through and through, for at least two years. Surtain had to know he could develop his talents into being a first-round draft pick in Baton Rouge as well as he could in Tuscaloosa.

But when it came down to it, the nation’s No. 1-ranked cornerback out of Fort Lauderdale saw Nick Saban beckon him with a wave of his hand — the hand that has an Alabama national championship ring on every finger — and he was smitten.

“They win championships, and I want to be a part of that.”

It’s the most painful Alabama quote directed at LSU since Quincy Jackson’s “The Tide don’t lose in Baton Rouge” taunt from 20 years ago.

This quote will stick in the craw of every LSU fan who has watched the Tigers lose seven straight games to the Crimson Tide and an assembly line of talented players like Landon Collins and Cam Robinson and Eddie Lacy and Hootie Jones and Tim Williams and Dylan Moses.

Alabama just takes. And LSU has to take it.

In the end, Surtain is one player, and one player never makes a class or a program. But in the wake of the cold and damp bummer that was LSU’s Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame, and the one-and-done tenure of former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, it’s easy to look at the way LSU’s recruiting class ended and believe the Tigers’ program is on a melting ice floe drifting out into a choppy sea.

Orgeron basically said Wednesday he can’t worry himself with such metaphors.

“I can’t control that,” he said as he met the media under a cloud (literally) to talk about LSU’s signing class. “I can’t let that affect how we do things.

“I know we have a great coordinator” he said, referring to new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. “I feel we did a great job last year going 6-1 (in the regular season) after the Troy loss. We love this class and feel this is what we could do.”

Although LSU finishes outside the top-10 recruiting rankings for the first time since 2011, the group as a whole is, in terms of sheer talent, an adequate class. LSU loaded up in December’s early signing period on badly needed linemen and put the cherry on top with top-rated Bossier City Parkway wide receiver Terrace Marshall. Orgeron and staff came back on Wednesday, what would have been the start of the traditional national signing period, and added another great receiver in Rummel’s Ja'Marr Chase and Scotlandville defensive back Kelvin Joseph.

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Joseph, according to 247Sports, is the nation’s fifth-best safety prospect. But he will likely have to play cornerback, or at least nickel, for the Tigers this fall because of their glaring lack of corners and the fact that LSU signed nary a one.

LSU shoved its chips to the middle of the table on Surtain, a veritable sure thing for the Tigers since Les Miles was still their coach. But Tuesday night, LSU found out he was going with Alabama. They tried to double back on another highly touted defensive back, Mario Goodrich from suburban Kansas City, but by then he’d cast his lot with Clemson.

While there is no shame in a sense in losing top-notch players to programs like Alabama and Clemson, which have both won national titles and been in the College Football Playoff the past three years, it’s hard to catch them if you don’t have the horsepower. And it’s hard to get the blue-chippers you need, the fuel for any high-level program, if you’re not winning at a high level.

It’s the Catch-22 of college athletics, and it’s a hard cycle to break. You somehow have to sell the right prospects on betting on the come with your program. First-year LSU coach Will Wade has done it, with a recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation (including Joseph’s good friend from Scotlandville, combo guard Ja’Vonte Smart), but it isn’t easy.

As much as there is a sense of impending doom surrounding Orgeron and the LSU program out there, certainly an anchor on the Tigers’ recruiting efforts, the sky truly hasn’t fallen. It’s just that for Coach O and the Tigers, their margin for error has whittled away to nothing.

They now have to convince backup quarterbacks Lowell Narcisse and/or Justin McMillan to stay behind Myles Brennan, or as Orgeron suggested go in search of a graduate transfer. They have to hope incoming four-star running back Chris Curry can be a transformative talent, or that someone like Nick Brossette or Clyde Edwards-Helaire can be too good to beat out. And they have to hope that a roster with only four cornerbacks currently on it can survive next season without significant injury.

It’s a cliff-to-cliff tightrope Orgeron has to walk to get to the place where a recruit one day says he picked LSU over another powerhouse because “they win championships, and I want to be a part of that.”

But LSU isn’t there yet, and it’s hard to say if this class puts the Tigers any closer.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​