You can unearth endless examples of how college football recruiting is more art than science.
There is the celebrated case of Chris Pettaway, a highly recruited offensive tackle from Miami who signed with LSU in 1985, the midst of the Tigers’ heyday under Bill Arnsparger. Pettaway never started for LSU and became a poster child for recruiting busts.
For every Pettaway there is a Jacob Hester, the good-natured former Tigers running back who is LSU’s answer to Bob Uecker. He has often joked that when LSU signed his, ahem, talents in 2004, the Tigers’ recruiting ranking took a tumble. Of course, Hester turned out to be a 1,000-yard rusher and an NFL player whom you would have handed the ball to on fourth-and-1 if your proverbial life was on the line.
These two tales of national signing days past bring us to Wednesday’s second annual start of college football’s new early signing period.
Although schools like LSU will sign the bulk of their NCAA-allotted 25-man recruiting classes this week, it is too new to eclipse the gravitas of the traditional national signing period in February, which in this cycle begins Wednesday, Feb. 6. But however you count it, this is one hugely important day for the future of LSU football.
The Tigers have very little margin for error. With a pair of national championships in the still recent past (2003 and 2007), the mandate for LSU has remained unyielding: compete for Southeastern Conference and national championships. To do that, you have to have the horsepower. I’ve always figured college football is 75-80 percent who you have and 20-25 percent how you prepare your players and the plays you put them in. Or, as LSU deep snapper Blake Ferguson said Tuesday on a slightly unrelated but nonetheless on-point topic, “Without great players you can’t be a great team.”
The good news for LSU is the program set to sign some great players. Or, at least, players that the recruiting services have rated to the stratosphere and players who other national powers were just as eager to sign as well.
According to 247Sports.com’s national composite rankings, LSU has commitments from three in-state five-star prospects all planning to sign Wednesday: the nation’s No. 1 cornerback Derek Stingley from The Dunham School, No. 2-ranked running back John Emery of Destrehan and No. 2-ranked guard Kardell Thomas of Southern Lab. LSU also has eight commitments from four-star prospects, including Southern Lab running back Tyrion Davis, John Ehret linebacker Donte Starks, Kentwood wide receiver Trey Palmer and Phenix City (Alabama) quarterback Peter Parrish, a key cornerstone of this 2018-19 class.
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LSU’s class is ranked No. 4 nationally by 247Sports.com. The bad news: LSU also ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference behind Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. In other words, the Tigers have to sign a class of this caliber just to keep pace in the superheated, super-talented SEC.
Those rankings could shift a bit by the time the classes wrap up in February, especially between LSU and A&M. The Tigers have 19 commitments at this point while the Aggies have 24, 11 of them 3-star prospects. However it shakes out, the classes LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M sign are likely to be roughly comparable, and at least for now a cut above the next highest-ranked SEC class belonging to Auburn at No. 14.
If LSU’s class mostly holds together, Ed Orgeron and his staff should get an “A” for attracting pure talent. Only Georgia with four has more committed five-star prospects than LSU at this point, and the Tigers are still pursuing more, namely Amite’s Ishmael Sopsher, the nation’s top-rated defensive tackle.
As far as filling needs go, give the Tigers a slightly incomplete grade. LSU is set to sweep up much-needed players at quarterback, running back and on the offensive line, where the Tigers have a total of five commitments, including Thomas, Ruston tackle Ray Parker and Lafayette Teurlings Catholic tackle Thomas Perry. But the Tigers have just one committed defensive lineman to date — three-star tackle Joseph Evans of Haynesville — although LSU is reportedly the favorite for four-star defensive tackle Siaki Ika of Salt Lake City. There is little doubt that landing Sopsher and some other D-linemen (like his older brother Rodney, a defensive end currently playing junior college ball in Iowa) will be LSU’s biggest recruiting priority between now and February.
But February is an eternity away in recruiting terms. For now, it’s time to stock up and take stock of the class you have. For LSU, the inevitable Hesters and Pettaways aside, it is a class that is on the way to giving the Tigers the necessary means to their ultimate end of bringing home trophies.