Print and Go Back ESPN.com: On The Trail: Southeast Region [Print without images]

Friday, December 27, 2013
Under Armour Game predictions

By Jeremy Crabtree

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If past Under Armour All-America Games have taught us anything, it's that we should expect the unexpected. Yes, there are some announcements where there’s not a lot of drama and it’s just a case of a player going public with a decision that everybody has already known about for months. There will be others where there is plenty of suspense throughout the week of practices and the pick will cause controversy in the end. Heck, this is the same game that we saw Landon Collins’ mom become a YouTube sensation when she disagreed with her son’s decision to commit to Alabama and spurn LSU. It’s what makes the Under Armour Game special, and ESPN RecruitingNation’s Jeremy Crabtree has some predictions on what we’ll see over the next seven days.

Fournette won’t be bothered by attention
When you’re the nation’s No. 1 player, you’re already used to the spotlight and never-ending attention from fans and media. But at the UA Game, No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) is going to be in a fishbowl even more than before. Everything he does this week will be documented for the whole world to see. Every rep in practice. Every interview after. Even when he’s hanging out in the hotel, there will likely be somebody there to tweet or discuss it. That will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Fournette, but those expecting him to fall at some point this week will be sorely disappointed. Fournette will prove once again on and off the field why he’s the best in the country and serve as an example of how other elite prospects should handle the recruiting process for years to come.

Momentum on LSU’s side
Speedy Noil
Five-star ATH Speedy Noil is expected to announce at the UA Game and he could be one of many elite prospects to pick LSU.
Last time I did one of these prediction stories, I projected Fournette would sign with Alabama. I didn't have any magical insight or a great source feeding me information. It was merely a projection based on the fact that Alabama doesn't lose in too many of these types of situations. It would still not shock me one bit to see Fournette commit to the Crimson Tide during the game on Jan. 2, but all signs point toward LSU being in the driver’s seat. Alabama did a tremendous job and wowed Fournette on his official visit, but the lure of playing for the home school in an offense that’s built around a physical running attack is tough to turn down. So I’m going to go with what the Hot Board projects and say Fournette picks the Tigers.

LSU will make Tiger bait out of competition
With five-star athlete Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr), five-star cornerback Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), No. 4 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) and No. 3 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) also slated to announce during the game, it could be a week that changes the balance of power in the SEC for years to come. I fully expect Noil, Brown and Willis to commit to LSU since they have been leaning that way for some time, despite the efforts of other schools such as Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M. Adding Noil, who is a two-way star who likely projects at receiver at LSU, a lockdown corner with elite speed such as Brown and a physical defensive tackle such as Willis is something that can push you over the top in the ultracompetitive SEC and become the foundation for national championship runs. That’s a mouthful, but these guys together, especially with Fournette, have that potential. Adams is the biggest question mark in the bunch. Projections on him are all over the map with Florida and LSU rumored to be the teams to beat.

Bama has one trick up sleeve
Even if Alabama misses out on Fournette, I believe they’re going to pull a mild surprise and land No. 15 Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Academy). The Tide impressed Tabor, the No. 5 cornerback, on his official visit Dec. 13 and the ability to leave the lasting impression before the start of the dead period is going to be enough to help the Tide win in the end. Everybody has had Tabor pegged to Maryland for quite some time, and the Terps are probably the safe projection since he would be staying home, but watch for the Tide to pull a surprise and land his commitment at the game.

Mahalak, Peavey make most of opportunity
Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) and Rafe Peavey (Bolivar, Mo./Bolivar) are highly regarded quarterbacks, but they've had to live in the shadows somewhat of higher-ranked signal-callers such as Keller Chryst and Deshaun Watson. At the UA Game, Mahalak, an Oregon commit, and Peavey, an Arkansas commit, get an opportunity to star after regular-season injuries devastated quarterbacks playing in the game. Mahalak and Peavey will show that they, too, belong among the best-of-the best. I really liked what I saw from Mahalak this summer at The Opening, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema gushed and gushed about Peavey after he signed with the Hogs. “He is a dynamic player with unique skills and an obvious winning mentality in everything he does,” Bielema said. Opportunities such as these don’t come around too often, and look for both to make the most of it.

Change of heart
Mark it down, because it’s going to happen. At least one player who came into UA Game week committed will leave open again. It happens like clockwork each year, and with college football’s silly season not quite finished yet, it will again. Committed prospects will see all of the attention with the uncommitted prospects, hear stories about how fun it was to take an official visit to this school or that school, and in the end decide they too might test the uncommitted waters themselves.

Adoree' the Great
Adoree Jackson
Five-star CB Adoree' Jackson could be one of the breakout stars of the UA All-America Game.
Sure, he’s already a five-star recruit, the No. 7 player overall and the second-ranked cornerback, but I fully expect Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) to be one of the breakout players in practices leading up to the game and the game itself. Weeks such as these are tailor-made for players such as Jackson. He has the speed to compete with anybody and everybody on the field. He has game-breaking ability to star in special teams, and don’t be surprised if coaches use him some on both offense and defense. Few players have the physical tools that Jackson brings to the table, and this could be his opportunity to contend for a national top-five ranking.

Carter bounces back
Last time Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) was on a national stage was early in the season when he struggled in a game broadcast on ESPN. He was pushed around and wasn't the type of impact player you’d expect from a guy who’s a five-star recruit. But watch for him to come in with a chip on his shoulder and show folks throughout the week of practices why he’s the nation’s No. 3 defensive end.

Cook will heat up
People in South Florida have been clamoring for months that Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), the nation’s No. 4 running back, is better than Fournette. Now Cook has his chance to prove his fans right, and I have a feeling he isn't going to disappoint. While running backs don’t usually get a lot of opportunities to excel in the game, I think Cook will do a lot of damage in practice and show folks why he is the center of one of the nation’s most intense recruiting battles between Florida, Florida State and Miami.