LSU didn’t top the recruiting rankings during the early signing period. Not even close. But the next few months will determine how Brian Kelly and the Tigers finish out their 2022 class.
LSU signed 13 high school seniors to its class on the first signing day, including key surprise in-state additions like four-star defensive lineman Quency Wiggins and three-star safety Jordan Allen. The Tigers followed up with a commitment from four-star offensive tackle Miles Frazier, an FIU transfer, on Thursday.
But Alabama won battles on three top in-state recruits, including, four-star Captain Shreve athlete Kendrick Law, five-star St. James wide receiver Shazz Preston and four-star Edna Karr wide receiver Aaron Anderson.
LSU’s class so far is No. 18 in the nation and No. 8 in the Southeastern Conference, but a number of factors could help the Tigers finish stronger.
Chad Simmons, director of recruiting for On3 Sports, said LSU is still in the mix for four-star Ponchatoula safety Jacoby Mathews, five-star Cy Park (Texas) linebacker Harold Perkins and four-star Lake Charles College Prep running back TreVonté Citizen.
High school recruits might wait to sign in February for any number of reasons.
Perkins is originally from New Orleans but now lives in suburban Houston. He will announce his decision Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game. He has LSU, Texas and Texas A&M in his top three.
“He’s given LSU every opportunity to make an impact in his recruitment,” Simmons said. “A lot of his family is from Louisiana. He’s from New Orleans and grew up an LSU fan. He’s been there numerous times waiting for that coaching hire, all that played into him taking his time.”
Mathews was in the midst of the state playoffs until the weekend before signing day, and players like him still want to take more visits before making their final decision.
“He didn’t have time to take his visits with the proper head coach in place at LSU, which is big for him and his recruitment,” Simmons said. “I talked to a kid last night in Florida who’s been committed to a school for six months, but he’s not an early enrollee, so he said, ‘Why sign early?’ The kids that don’t sign just don’t know yet. They don’t feel 100% about where they want to go.”
Citizen decommitted from LSU in November, but Simmons said getting Citizen back should be Kelly’s No. 2 priority, behind only Mathews. That will help LSU keep much of his grip on its home territory.
But Simmons said recruits could also be waiting to see whom Kelly hires as his offensive and defensive coordinators, so they know whether they can fit into LSU’s new scheme under Kelly.
So far, Kelly targeted his former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman (who was promoted to head coach), his former offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees (who also remained at Notre Dame), and Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White (who opted to stay put).
Those coordinator hires could wait until after the bowl season, or even the playoff, for Kelly. On the other hand, new coordinators could also reel in recruits that aren't on LSU's current list.
Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting, said while coordinator hires are pivotal, Kelly has enough to sell to remaining recruits. LSU has produced three straight Top 5 recruiting classes and could still make the top 10 in this cycle.
“Brian Kelly has a track record of winning, too. He’s won as many games as anybody not named Nick Saban,” Wiltfong said. “But some recruits want every card on the table, and the longer you wait, the more information you could possibly have.”
Games like the Under Armour All-America are also traditional settings where players have the national platform to make big announcements. While some will sign the papers in secret and wait to announce, others might wait until February because they have official visits left to take.
In the SEC, teams are capped to signing 25 scholarship players, but teams can have a total of 85 scholarship players. In addition to the seven players LSU has in the transfer portal, others departing for the NFL will impact how many Kelly can bring in via transfer. It’s yet unclear what that number is.
That's part of the sticking point with the early signing period: Coaches don’t often have a full picture of what they need or how much they need.
“I think they have a lot of potential for guys to transfer for this year that can cover up some of the things that they don’t necessarily land in recruiting,” On3 recruiting analyst Jeremy Johnson said. “But I think the next class after that is where you will be seeing what coach Kelly and that staff can do as a recruiting unit.”
Simmons said that's why some coaches have pushed for the early signing period to start after the championship games in late January.
As the clock strikes midnight Friday to commence another dead period, recruits will have to wait to take their last-minute official visits until mid-January. That gives Kelly time to put more assistant coaches in place before making his final push.
Then he’ll get to start the process from scratch on the Class of 2023.
“I think it's too early to kind of say, like, maybe Plan A or plan B, or ... who's in that next pool to go after certain guys,” Simmons said. “I think you'll see new names emerge.”