National Signing Day Preview: College Football's Elite Programs Vie for Top Prospects

National Signing Day Preview: College Football's Elite Programs Vie for Top Prospects

National Signing Day Preview: The nation’s top schools vie for top prospects. Coverage begins at 7:30am EST on ESPNU on  Feb. 6, 2013.

The competition for the most dramatic recruiting episode just got a little stiffer. Breitbart Sports’ #4 prospect Reuben Foster announced his intentions to sign with the University of Alabama on Fox Sports South, an announcement that may or may not end his recruitment. It is hard to ever be sure with Foster, who committed to Alabama early in his junior year only to go through a dramatic “will he or won’t he” saga with his commitment before committing to Auburn by releasing a near word-for-word statement that mirrored the statement T.J. Yeldon released when he flipped from Auburn to Alabama the previous year.

But that is not all.

Foster went on to get a massive Auburn tattoo on his forearm and become one of the most vocal commitments for the Tigers who never wavered despite a 3-9 season or the firing of Gene Chizik. What caused an instant de-commitment from Foster, however, was the firing of wide receiver’s coach Trooper Taylor, who had taken a lead role in Foster’s recruitment. After a time, it appeared that Auburn was back in the driver’s seat for his signature.

That seemed to change this weekend. While on his official visit to Auburn, Foster left campus to visit Tuscaloosa. All sorts of rumors swirled about why Foster pulled this bizarre and unexpected move, particularly with his mother sticking around on the Auburn campus to meet with Auburn coaches, only to be rejoined by Foster on Sunday.

Confused? 

So am I and everyone who follows recruiting. And, so is Foster who stated during his interview last night that he was still confused and had only made up his mind on the air.

Foster’s drama-filled recruitment may have more twists and turns until National Signing Day, or, like previous “drama prospects,” it could go beyond. Given his history, he could remain confused far beyond February 6th, much like Cyrus Kouandjio, the starting offensive tackle for Alabama, who publicly announced for Auburn on National Signing Day only to fail to send in his fax and sign with the Crimson Tide days later.

Beyond Foster, there will be plenty of dramatic moments and decisions because nothing is ever certain and things are constantly changing in recruiting. Here is a look at projecting the destinations of the top uncertain prospects in the country.

DE Carl Lawson (GA), COMMITTED TO AUBURN

Analysis: A few days ago, if you asked three different people, you would have gotten three different answers on where the Breitbart25 #1 ranked player would land. As I have repeatedly projected, it is now clear that Lawson will sign with Auburn. Following his weekend visit, Lawson has firmed up his commitment to the Tigers, and his teammate and friend, running back Peyton Barber, has joined him in that pledge. Auburn will be getting an elite talent and a high character locker room presence who can bring a winning culture to a wounded program.

Projection: Auburn

DE Robert Nkemdiche (GA), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: As noted in the Breitbart25, Nkemdiche has been the consensus number one prospect throughout the process, however, in evaluating film, Carl Lawson stands out as the best player to us. Regardless, Nkemdiche is an outstanding prospect who will ultimately decide between Ole Miss and LSU after being committed to Clemson earlier in the process. His brother plays at Ole Miss, and his mother has been pushing hard for the two to play together, but a great trip to LSU this weekend has complicated things for Nkemdiche. Either team will be getting an immediate game changer.

Projection: Ole Miss. Hard to say not to Momma.

DT Montravious Adams (GA), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: The Breitbart25 #3 prospect is an elite defensive tackle who will be a force for the school of his choice right away. Problem is, no one really knows whether that school will be Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, or Georgia. He visited Auburn this weekend and it is rumored that he really wants to play in the SEC. Many think he also likes the atmosphere and staff at Clemson and the in-state Bulldogs have some pull.

Projection: Auburn.  Could go a number of ways, but, at this moment… -Auburn

LB Reuben Foster (AL), COMMITTED TO Alabama

Analysis: I touched on drama personified, aka Reuben Foster, above. What’s clear from following his recruitment is that, despite the commitment to Alabama, Foster could do just about anything. This does appear to be a battle between the Tigers and the Tide with the Tigers having some family pull whereas Nick Saban rarely loses a prospect late in the process. 

Projection: Alabama. Nothing would surprise me, but once Saban locks a guy down, he closes- I think … he sticks with…- Alabama

CB Jalen Ramsey (TN), COMMITTED TO  USC

Analysis: Ramsey is a part of a very elite class of cornerbacks, and, I feel, he is the best of the bunch. However, since his commitment to USC, it’s been clear he has not been comfortable with the Trojans. At this point, I would say that both Florida and Florida State have a slight edge on USC for Ramsey’s signature, and I expect a rough Signing Day for a Trojans class that has lost several top prospects recently.

Projection: Florida State 

DE Chris Jones (MS), COMMITTED TO MISSISSIPPI STATE

Analysis: No one has seen their recruitment sky-rocket in recent weeks like Chris Jones who went from largely overlooked player to near universal five-star status being ranked #10 in the Breitbart25 and even as high as #2 by 247Sports.com. Jones is a big, physical, complete athlete from the defensive end position. His commitment to Mississippi State was put in question by Alabama and Auburn but has really only been shaken by Ole Miss. Could Hugh Freeze pull off another MAJOR DE prospect?

Projection: … At this moment, I say no- Mississippi State

OT Laremy Tunsil (FL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Throughout the process, the nation’s best offensive tackle has been torn between Georgia and Alabama with the Bulldogs holding a slight edge. Now, as reported in our interview with Neal McCready of RebelGrove.com, the Ole Miss Rebels have real momentum with Tunsil. While I see a lot of holes in Tunsil’s game, particularly from a tenacity standpoint, the Rebels would be getting far and away the best tackle in this class.

Projection: Ole Miss

DT A’Shawn Robinson (TX), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: When I spoke with Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com, he expressed doubt that the massive lineman would leave his home state of Texas. That seemed to be the consensus then, but now that Robinson has de-committed, it appears he has national championships on his mind. He could project either as an offensive tackle or as a 3-4 defensive end in the Tide’s schemes, however, I do think the Tide have an edge over the Longhorns.

Projection: Alabama

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (CA), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Vanderdoes is one of a handful of prospects that really would not surprise anyone if he goes in a number of different directions. He’s an elite, physical defensive tackle who lacks great athleticism, but is very stout, particularly with great leg strength. If there is a team that seems to be leading, it is the UCLA Bruins, but Alabama and Notre Dame and major contenders here.

Projection: Notre Dame. The Irish have done well at keeping their prospects committed and closing out this class. I think the Kelly and co. get a great interior defensive lineman.

S Vonn Bell (GA), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Like Vanderdoes, Bell seems down to three schools and could go in a number of different directions. He is, in my opinion, the second best pure safety of this class (Leon McQuay III who already signed with USC is the better prospect in my opinion), and, while not a game-changer, Bell will be a big time contributor very quickly. He will decide between college football’s two best closers (Urban Meyer and Nick Saban) and one of the nation’s top up and comers (Butch Jones). Despite what some think, my gut says this comes down to the Tide and the Buckeyes.

Projection: Ohio State, but only by a hair.

CB Mackensie Alexander (FL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Many analysts see Alexander as one of the most mysterious prospects they have encountered. He is exceedingly quiet, intentionally misleading, and his less heralded brother provides an X Factor element to his recruitment. Auburn, Clemson, and Mississippi State are the favorites here, and each team would be getting a big time corner who is plenty fast and plenty physical.

Projection: Clemson. Impossible to say with much confidence, but I do think he ends up being a Tiger with the edge going to- Clemson

S Antonio Connor (MS), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: His physical presence really stands out on film, and, if he can improve in coverage, he could be a great one. Ole Miss has long been the leader with Mississippi State and Alabama contending. Now, I think Alabama has emerged as the frontrunner for his signature. 

Projection: Alabama. I could be wrong, but I think Saban gets his elite safety.

RB Altee Tenpenny (AR), COMMITTED TO ALABAMA

Analysis: Tenpenny is a standout back that would likely be an immediate contributor anywhere he went. Problem for Tenpenny is that playing time will not be in his immediate future if he sticks with the school he’s committed to. Despite already having a number of standout backs on campus, Alabama is bringing in Breitbart25 #6 prospect Derrick Henry, Rivals100 back Tyren Jones, and they are the leaders for Rivals100 runner Alvin Kamara. Tenpenny has been toying with the idea of flipping to the in-state Razorbacks who landed elite back Alex Collins last night.

Projection: Alabama. 

LB Matthew Thomas (FL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: In my opinion, Thomas is one of the most overrated prospects in this class. I think he’s too small and far too soft to be an All-American as some forecast. However, he’s still an impact player who is having a hard time deciding which in-state school to attend (FSU or Miami).

Projection: Florida State. Miami has been trending, but I think he can sense that situation is a mess- Florida State

RB Alvin Kamara (GA), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Kamara is a solid back who may break some in-state hearts tomorrow. The way it looks, Kamara will choose Alabama over Georgia, and I do not think it is very much in doubt.

Projection: Alabama

DE Elijah Daniel (IN), COMMITTED TO OLE MISS

Analysis: The recent Ole Miss commit visited Auburn this weekend, liked what he saw, and the rumor is that his family would love to see him on the Plains. However, Daniels really liked Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze wins the award for surprise performance this year. This one is very close to call, but he is certainly a great prospect who projects very well transitioning to the next level.

Projection: Auburn, but it is VERY close.  

DT Dee Liner (AL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Liner was a long time Auburn commit who de-committed a few weeks ago. Justin Hokanson of AuburnSports.com cited local pressure as a major factor urging him to sign with the Tide. Barring a shock, Liner will end up in Tuscaloosa; however, I could see the Tide running out of room given the volume of prospects that seem headed in their direction. There is only a slight chance of that happening, and I am not sure he would not be willing to accept a gray-shirt offer from Alabama.

Projection: Alabama

OT Austin Golson (AL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Golson had long been committed to Florida State, but, like many others, he has since become enamored with what Hugh Freeze is building in Oxford. I project him as being  one of many that will excite Rebel fans on signing day.

Projection: Ole Miss

ATH Tyrell and Tyree Robinson (CA), COMMITTED TO OREGON

Analysis: “The Robinson Twins” are very tough to project, and I could see them sticking with Oregon or flipping to Washington or USC. Of those three schools, only Washington has momentum going into NSD.

Projection: Washington

RB Johnathan Ford (AL), UNCOMMITTED

Analysis: Until recently, Ford was committed to Vanderbilt, but after Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, and Tennessee all began pursuing the small school player intensely, Ford backed off his pledge and seems to be down to Auburn and Tennessee. The general consensus is that the in-state Tigers have the edge, and Ford’s speed would be a nice addition for Malzahn’s offense.

Projection: Auburn

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