ATLANTA — It’s all but official that at least a few of LSU’s underclassmen will play their final college game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday night.
Some might know they’re leaving early for the NFL, but they’re not saying. Some, perhaps most, still haven’t decided.
In either event, several Tigers are trying to focus on finishing their junior seasons with a victory as one of the biggest decisions of their young lives looms.
They must decide whether to stay or go by Jan. 15, and their decision won’t just determine where they’ll play football next season. It will also affect their families, their teammates and their coaches.
It appears eight Tigers are viable candidates to enter the NFL draft early, but each circumstance is different.
Reporters and fans can cavalierly say, “he’s gone,” or “he’s crazy if he leaves early,” but these decisions aren’t ones to be made cavalierly or prematurely.
Nor are they easy.
The potential early entrants understandably don’t enjoy answering questions about the topic. They don’t have to decide now and they have important business to take care of against Clemson.
“The decision is there and it will have to be made,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said after practice Thursday, “but this week is about this team and having fun with my teammates. We’ll cross that road when it gets here.”
Mingo is the LSU underclassman who figures to be the most tempted by the NFL. He is projected to be a very high first-round pick. As such, he has been swarmed by agents the way he was swarmed by college recruiters when he played at West Monroe High School.
“You almost want to change your phone munber,” Mingo said.
Fellow defensive end Sam Montgomery is projected to be a first-round pick, though not as high as Mingo — not now, anyway.
Montgomery said: “I’ll make up my mind right after the game.”
And announcements likely will come in rapid-fire fashion once the team returns to Baton Rouge next week as Mingo and Montgomery and others such as Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, Bennie Logan, Tharold Simon, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford decide whether the time is right to pursue the lucrative, glamorous career they’ve dreamed of since they were little, or whether they should experience their senior years in college, which they’ll never again have a chance to do.
Coach Les Miles, who just a few years ago convinced each of the players that LSU provided their best path to the NFL, now must help them decide if LSU has done all it can do — or not.
“We give them all the information that we have,” Miles said. “We tell them not to give the NFL a deal. There’s an opportunity to increase your draft status and get your degree and win and have an opportunity to win a national award — or not.”
Miles cited recent high No. 1 picks Morris Claiborne and Patrick Peterson as two ex-Tigers who belonged in the NFL sooner than virtually all of their classmates.
But the harder decisions come for many guys who will be attractive to the NFL. They must decide whether to leave a successful LSU team before they have to.