SEC: Tashawn Bower

Second-year stars: LSU

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
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One of the most beneficial aspects of the LSU coaching staff’s philosophy of liberally using true freshmen is that those youngsters are often ready to blossom in their second seasons. Think Tyrann Mathieu, who became one of the SEC’s most explosive players as a sophomore in 2011. Think Patrick Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Eric Reid -- all of whom emerged as stars when they were sophomores. The list could go on and on and on.

With that history in mind, it should come as no surprise that LSU has plenty of candidates who are poised to repeat what Mathieu and company accomplished in recent seasons by achieving stardom in their second year in the SEC.

The Tigers are next up in our series projecting who might become a second-year star at each SEC program.

[+] EnlargeRashard Robinson
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLocking down Texas A&M's Mike Evans gave a sign of what rising LSU sophomore Rashard Robinson can do.
Class recap: Thanks in part to LSU’s 11 early entries into the 2013 NFL draft, the Tigers had lots of holes for freshmen to fill last fall. Most notably, cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White had jumped into the starting lineup by the end of the season. But a number of other freshmen played last season, including Anthony Jennings -- who filled in at quarterback when senior Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending knee injury in November -- defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, defensive end/linebacker Kendell Beckwith, tight end DeSean Smith and offensive lineman Ethan Pocic. Still, some of the most talented players in the class redshirted in 2013, and there should be several breakout candidates from that bunch, including receiver John Diarse and defensive linemen Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore. Overall, the 2013 signing class has left a small impression already, but this should be the year where its impact is truly felt.

Second-year star: CB Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1/163)

Recruiting stock: A three-star athlete from Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- the same school that sent Peterson to LSU -- Robinson wasn’t cleared to enroll at LSU until three days before the first game. But his dynamic athleticism helped him begin contributing by Week 2 and start by the end of the season.

2013 in review: Robinson put himself on the map when he shut down Biletnikoff Award finalist Mike Evans for most of the game in LSU’s dismantling of Texas A&M. Evans averaged 107.2 receiving yards per game, but he had only three catches for 13 yards against Robinson before adding a 38-yard reception against a different Tigers defender late in the game. Robinson also notched his first career interception in the game. He finished the season with 16 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and four passes defended.

2014 potential: Now that he has found his footing, Robinson is poised to team with White to become LSU’s next set of shutdown cornerbacks. As long as he keeps his academic ship in order, the sky is the limit. He probably needs to add some weight to his thin frame, but Robinson has the athleticism and coverage skills to dominate in the SEC and become a pro cornerback in the not-so-distant future.

Also watch for: Aside from Robinson and White, Smith is another top candidate for the “second-year star” honor from LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron typically utilizes the tight end, and Smith’s receiving skills could make him a major weapon this fall. In addition, Beckwith generated headlines by switching to middle linebacker during spring practice, and he seems ready to challenge D.J. Welter for playing time there. Keep an eye, also, on LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and the previously mentioned redshirt freshman defensive linemen, who will almost certainly all play key roles this fall. Any of these players would make sense as the LSU pick for this series, but Robinson’s potential pushed him to the top of the list.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Asked whether Saturday’s spring game would be an important factor in some of his team’s key position battles, Les Miles clearly saw no need to do his best P.T. Barnum impression in order to draw a crowd -- which is fine since admission to LSU’s 1 p.m. CT scrimmage at Tiger Stadium is free.

“Not really to be honest with you. We’re going to watch competition [and] it’s a key scrimmage, but it’s also one of those things where there’s a lot of time left before we get to [deciding] playing time,” Miles said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s one piece, but obviously it’s important and any time we walk into that stadium, we expect our guys to play at a certain level.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Courtesy of IntersportAll eyes will be on the quarterbacks on Saturday in LSU's spring game, and former Under Armour All-American Brandon Harris has a chance to make a big impression.
Miles and his coaches have been observing practice for a month and then they’ll have 29 more August practices to settle their lineups for the opener against Wisconsin. But this is the first chance most of us will have to see how some Tigers handle new or expanded roles in a competitive situation. That’s what makes spring games fun, even if it’s just a glorified scrimmage.

So while Miles indicated it would be a mistake to draw any major conclusions from Saturday’s competition, there are still plenty of areas of intrigue worth observing since this is the last time we’ll see the Tigers do anything competitive until they take the field at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Aug. 30. Here's what we’ll be keeping an eye on from the press box:

Quarterback play: Duh. It was no surprise at Thursday’s practice, which was open for students to attend, that the vast majority of them gathered around the field where LSU’s quarterbacks were throwing to their wide receivers. The competition between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris is by far the biggest source of intrigue among Tigers fans, and their performances on Saturday will generate speculation all summer about who is best prepared to lead the offense in the opener against Wisconsin.

Both players have worked with the first- and second-team offenses, although Miles hasn’t been specific about who has done what in practices or scrimmages. Jennings certainly looks to have a better handle on things in the portions of practice that are open to the media. Harris, meanwhile, is all raw potential thanks to a powerful throwing arm. The early enrollee seems more likely to sail a ball over or behind a receiver, but when he does it correctly, it’s a thing of beauty.

Defenders could tackle Harris and Jennings when they ran from the pocket in last Saturday’s scrimmage, but Miles predicted they will likely wear non-contact jerseys in the spring game.

Offensive line development: Obviously one of LSU’s main position battles this spring has been at right guard, where Evan Washington, Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic have all gotten a look from new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all three players factor into the Tigers’ plans in the fall, although somebody has to be the starter. Washington seems to be the leader, but we’ll gain some understanding of the pecking order on Saturday.

Overall, a line that returns four starters was effective last season, particularly as run blockers. They want to become a dominant group this season, however, and their experience and apparent depth make that seem like a possibility. Let’s see how they fare against an emerging LSU defensive line on Saturday.

Beckwith vs. Welter: We could expand this to the performance of the entire reshuffled linebacker corps, with Kwon Alexander at weakside linebacker and Lamar Louis at strong. But let’s narrow our focus on the play of senior D.J. Welter and sophomore Kendell Beckwith in the middle. Both players have reportedly enjoyed productive springs and both will likely factor into coordinator John Chavis’ plans in the fall. But who will be the starter? Saturday won’t decide that outcome, but it will be interesting to observe how the two players function in a game-like situation.

Interior defensive line: Miles has said a time or two this spring that the competition between the offensive and defensive lines has been encouraging. It will be fun to watch them duke it out on Saturday. One group has a decided experience advantage, particularly after starting defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson both bolted for the NFL draft. But there are some up-and-comers along the defensive line who could shine on Saturday.

By all accounts, sophomore Christian LaCouture has had a strong spring. Sophomore end Tashawn Bower, redshirt freshman tackles Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore and end/tackle Frank Herron are among the youngsters we’ll be watching, as well.

Secondary play: This is a group that simply has to play better in 2014. All of the contenders at safety haven’t been practicing lately, so it’s unclear whether we’ll get a clear idea of where that competition stands on Saturday. But how smooth will Jalen Mills look at safety? What does early enrollee Ed Paris look like after a month of practices at cornerback? Who fills the various defensive back roles if the Tigers line up in their nickel and dime packages? Will Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White continue to develop into the lockdown cornerbacks LSU fans hope they will become? Those are all questions to keep in mind as you watch the scrimmage.

Who are the playmakers?: Freshmen who could become some of the Tigers’ most dangerous 2014 offensive skill players -- such as tailback Leonard Fournette and receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn -- won’t arrive until the summer. But there are several players already on campus who could use a confidence-building performance at Tiger Stadium to catapult themselves into the offseason.

Senior receiver Quantavius Leslie had such an outing at last Saturday’s scrimmage, catching four passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Who else might pull off that kind of feat? Receivers Travin Dural or John Diarse? Tight end DeSean Smith? Tailbacks Terrence Magee or Kenny Hilliard? Somebody else? Stay tuned.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- We’re past the midway point of LSU’s spring practice with the Tigers’ spring game on April 5 less than two weeks away.

Before the Tigers return to the practice field on Tuesday, let’s recap some of the developments thus far this spring.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesSophomore Anthony Jennings has experience on his side in the Tigers' quarterback competition.
The QB race is on: On national signing day, it looked like LSU might have five quarterbacks vying for playing time in the fall. With the announcements that Stephen Rivers will transfer and Rob Bolden will play receiver, the race was down to three before practice even started.

Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris appear to lead Hayden Rettig in one of the nation’s most-watched spring quarterback battles. With 2013 playing time under his belt -- including a start in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa -- Jennings appears to be the more composed, polished contender on the practice field. But Harris possesses special passing talent. It should continue to be an interesting race throughout the summer and into the season.

The young quarterbacks endured many sloppy moments early in camp, to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron’s displeasure, but Tigers coach Les Miles said both players threw the ball well in Saturday’s scrimmage. Perhaps they are starting to turn a corner toward being ready to face SEC competition.

Receivers are a mess: Between frequent dropped passes and a spate of injuries, it has not been a banner spring for LSU’s receivers. Early in the spring, they seemed to struggle to get on the same page with the quarterbacks. And by the end of last week, they only had a couple of healthy scholarship players available.

Redshirt freshmen Kevin Spears, Avery Peterson and John Diarse have all dealt with injuries, with those setbacks coming at a particularly inopportune time since the youngsters need to establish themselves before a talented group of signees arrives this summer. At last Thursday’s practice periods that were open to the media, the only scholarship wideouts catching passes from the quarterbacks were Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie.

Miles said last week that he likes what Dural and Diarse have accomplished thus far this spring, and Dural caught a long touchdown pass in Saturday’s scrimmage. But the others still have a lot to prove, which might be why Miles predicted that all four receiver signees will have the opportunity to win playing time in the fall.

Defensive line coming together: Miles seems pleased with the progress that several young defensive linemen have made this spring. In the last week, he has singled out redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore for getting stronger and improving their games since they arrived at LSU last year.

He also complimented sophomores Christian LaCouture and Tashawn Bower after Saturday’s scrimmage. LaCouture and Bain both had sacks in the scrimmage, and Bower had two quarterback pressures.

The defensive line competition won’t generate a fraction of the national interest that the quarterback battle will, but that group’s development might be just as important in gauging LSU’s chances to contend in the SEC West this fall. With Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson both bolting for the NFL, the Tigers desperately needed some players to fill their void -- and Miles makes it sound as if they are developing some good options.

OL battle rages: It’s no surprise that LSU’s coaching staff continues to weigh its options on the offensive line -- particularly at the right guard position.

Seniors Evan Washington and Fehoko Fanaika have worked there, as has sophomore Ethan Pocic. It’s clear that the staff likes what Pocic can do, because he has practiced at guard, center and tackle this spring. Fanaika has been strictly at guard and Washington has worked at both guard and tackle.

With a new offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, coming on board this spring, it’s obvious that he’s experimenting with different player combinations to see what he likes best. That experimentation will probably continue beyond the spring game.

Linebacker shuffle: As with the offensive line, LSU’s linebackers are also trying some new combinations this spring. Kwon Alexander shifted from strongside linebacker to weakside linebacker, Lamar Louis went from middle linebacker to the strong side and Kendell Beckwith is now backing up D.J. Welter in the middle after playing mostly at defensive end last fall.

LSU’s linebackers were somewhat mediocre for portions of 2013, so defensive coordinator John Chavis shook things up a bit this spring. Miles said Saturday that Beckwith’s move to the middle appears to be a good one and that Welter has improved his play this spring with the talented sophomore now battling him for playing time.

The linebackers themselves seem excited about the speed and athleticism that their group possesses. It will be interesting to see whether the lineup shuffling affects the Tigers’ overall defensive performance.

Chavis understands skeptics' concerns

August, 26, 2013
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His defense lost eight players to the NFL draft after ranking eighth nationally in total defense a year ago, so John Chavis understands the skepticism that LSU’s defense faces this season. He just doesn’t find it a cause for major concern.

“It’s a natural thing when you lose the number of people that we lost. It’s natural for some people to think, ‘Well, they’re going to be down a little bit.’ But we don’t think that way,” said Chavis, entering his fifth season as LSU’s defensive coordinator. “We’re going to work to be the very best that we can be, and certainly if we reach the potential that we have in terms of the quality of the players, then we’re going to be fine.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
John Korduner/Icon SMIAnthony Johnson is expected to provide a veteran presence on a defense that lost a lot from 2012.
That’s where Chavis’ confidence level is appropriate entering Saturday’s opener against No. 20 TCU in Arlington, Texas. With veterans Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson anchoring the front line and a huge group of talented youngsters jockeying for early playing time alongside established players like linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston, talent is not an issue at LSU.

Yes, the Tigers will be young and will face an extremely difficult schedule, but an infusion of talent up front -- including early enrollee Christian LaCouture at defensive tackle and ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower -- gives LSU’s coaches hope there won’t be a big drop-off after losing Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Lavar Edwards to the draft.

“I like what we’re getting out of our veterans there,” LSU coach Les Miles said after Friday’s practice. The young guys are stepping to the front, and they seemed much more polished even from when they arrived.”

As with all young players, however, the trick is preparing them for the physicality, speed and knowledge base necessary to compete at the college level.

“When you have 92,000 people coming in, you’re not really going to have a lot of time to think,” LaCouture said. “I just want to make sure I have everything down when we go through that process and make sure I’m ready for Week 1.”

The freshmen are merely role players filling secondary roles on the depth chart for now, though. Now is the time for players like Barrow to seize the spotlight after Kevin Minter’s starmaking 2012 performance helped him become a second-round draft pick. And for Johnson and Ferguson to make good on their enormous potential now that the aforementioned big-name defensive linemen are in the pros. And for young cornerback standouts and a deep linebacking corps to perform at a high enough level that the Tigers can sort out their questions with the rotation up front.

Johnson is the No. 15 prospect for next year’s draft on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s most recent top 32, and even if the two-deep figures to be loaded with underclassmen, LSU has enough of a veteran presence from players like Loston, Barrow and Ferguson to help the Tigers remain a defensive force even while replacing so many major contributors.

“I come to work every day with the No. 1 goal of getting this defense ready to compete in the SEC. These guys are ready to compete,” said Chavis, whose units have finished 26th, 12th, second and eighth nationally in total defense since he arrived at LSU in 2009. “But everybody saying that we’re going to drop off, well, we don’t expect that, and we’ve got to work hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
There's no question that this year's NFL draft really hit LSU's defense hard -- especially up front.

Gone is projected first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo at defensive end, along with very productive leader Sam Montgomery. The Tigers also said good-bye to their plug in the middle, Bennie Logan.

That trio combined for 27 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries in 2012. It's a lot production to replace, but coach Les Miles said during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference that he was pleased with the way his new defensive line looked this spring.

And it's not hard to believe him when you think about the talent and the numbers he and his staff have to work with.

The Tigers welcomed true freshman Christian LeCouture this spring and watched him play his way into the two-deep at defensive tackle. Miles also said he was pleased with the play of veteran tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.

People know about the skill these two possess, especially Johnson, but it's all about being more consistent for these two. Miles seemed pleased with that this spring, and he's also hoping junior Jordan Allen finally comes into his own at defensive end after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.

He was also very happy with the improvements made by rising junior Jermauria Rasco, who played in 13 games last season and recorded 10 tackles (two for loss). He'll have the responsibility of replacing one of LSU's talented ends, but Miles feels very confident in his ability to get the job done.

"Jermauria Rasco, in my opinion, is going to be a guy that can step right in there and play just as well as any of the guys we'll lose to the NFL draft," Miles said.

That's a lot to ask of someone who has had to wait in the wings for a while, but Miles and his coaches have no choice but to push players like him.

Sophomore Danielle Hunter is also expected to make a strong impact this fall, too, after he played in 12 games as a true freshman. Miles said Hunter, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds, "has all of the ability that we would be comfortable with at the defensive end spot."

And once fall rolls around, the Tigers will have even more bodies to work with up front. LSU signed seven defensive linemen in its 2013 class, meaning six more, including ESPN 150 members Tashawn Bower (DE), Maquedius Bain (DT) and Greg Gilmore (DT).

"We're going to have a number of guys who will come in behind them as true freshman," Miles said.

SEC signing day superlatives

February, 8, 2013
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Let’s face it. Nobody ever has a bad signing class.

Can you imagine a coach standing up at his post-signing day news conference and proclaiming that that particular class simply didn’t measure up?

However, according to the ESPN Recruiting team, none of the 14 SEC schools finished with lower than a B- this year. Not only that, but seven schools received an A or A-.

So, somebody’s doing something right in this league.

Here’s a look back at a few superlatives from signing day:

Biggest winner: Six SEC schools finished in the top 10 of ESPN’s class rankings, but right there at the top was Alabama … again. The rich keep getting richer. The Crimson Tide have now finished with a top-3 class nationally in each of the past six years. They reeled in several coveted prospects early in the process, then closed like you’d expect a program that’s won three of the past four national championships to close. Getting linebacker Reuben Foster, the state’s top player and No. 1 inside linebacker in the country, punctuated what was another talent-laden class for Nick Saban and Co.

Best closer: When is the last time anybody has closed the way Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss did this year? The Rebels haven’t won an SEC championship since 1963, but they went out and recruited this year like they plan on winning one in the near future. The big catch was defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, but the Rebels were just getting started after he announced Wednesday morning. They also landed Laremy Tunsil, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, and Antonio Conner, the No. 2 safety in the country, later in the day. All told, the Rebels got the No. 1 defensive end, the No. 1 receiver, two of the top three offensive tackles and the No. 2 safety.

Biggest surprise: It’s hard to knock Georgia’s recruiting when you look at the caliber of prospects the Bulldogs have consistently brought in under Mark Richt. But what was surprising this year was to see Georgia strike out on so many of the top in-state players. Only one of the top 10 prospects in the state, according to ESPN’s rankings, signed with the Bulldogs -- cornerback Shaq Wiggins of Tyrone, Ga. Don’t feel too badly for the Dawgs, though. They’re still ranked No. 10 nationally in ESPN’s class rankings.

Who flipped/biggest loss: There were a couple that stood out. Defensive end Tashawn Bower of Somerville, N.J., initially committed to Auburn, then looked like he was going to flip to Florida at the last minute before eventually signing with LSU. Auburn did a little flipping of its own by getting defensive end Elijah Daniel of Avon, Ind., away from Ole Miss on signing day. Losing Tunsil to Ole Miss was a blow for both Alabama and Georgia, while Tennessee couldn’t keep safety Vonn Bell (who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn.) at home. The Vols’ first-year coach, Butch Jones, recruited Bell hard, but former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley had dropped the ball with Bell, and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer was able to swoop in and get the No. 4 safety in the country.
Signing day is behind us, so let's take a look at how the West Division teams did in filling their needs, even though definitive answers won’t come for a couple of years.

ALABAMA

Needs filled: Reuben Foster's recruitment was bizarre to say the least, but he gives the Crimson Tide another talented linebacker to plug into that defense. The one-two punch of receiver Robert Foster and tight end O.J. Howard should make Alabama’s passing game that much more explosive, and nobody in the country stockpiles running backs the way Alabama does. Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny are all top-10 running back prospects.

Holes remaining: The Crimson Tide lost out on one of their top offensive tackle targets when Laremy Tunsil signed with Ole Miss. They’re losing D.J. Fluker early to the NFL, and Cyrus Kouandjio will almost certainly follow if he has the kind of 2013 season everyone expects.

ARKANSAS

Needs filled: Arkansas landed some much-needed help on the offensive line, led by ESPN 150 offensive tackle Denver Kirkland. A Miami product, Kirkland chose the Hogs over the Hurricanes on signing day. Offensive tackle Dan Skipper and offensive guard Reeve Koehler were also key gets, not to mention ESPN 150 tight end Hunter Henry of Little Rock, Ark. Henry was the top prospect in the state and ranked as the No. 2 tight end nationally.

Holes remaining: The biggest hole centers around the Hogs’ most high-profile recruit. Running back Alex Collins of Plantation, Fla., announced Tuesday that he was signing with Arkansas over Miami, but he didn’t sign as scheduled Wednesday and is getting pressure from his family to stay closer to home and sign with the Hurricanes. Stay tuned.

AUBURN

Needs filled: The Tigers were looking for more difference-makers on defense and scored big up front with ESPN 150 defensive tackle Montravius Adams and ESPN 150 defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. Lawson was the No. 2 prospect in the country and had been looking around after initially committing to Auburn under the previous staff.

Holes remaining: Auburn can use all the help it can get in the secondary, which is why losing cornerback Mackensie Alexander to Clemson stung so much. Auburn signed Alexander’s brother, Mackenro, but Mackensie would have been the catch at cornerback. He’s ranked No. 4 overall in the ESPN 150.

LSU

Needs filled: Flipping ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower of Somerville, N.J., was a coup for the Tigers, especially considering that they’re losing their top four defensive ends. Auburn and Florida were thought to be the leaders for Bower, but he chose LSU on signing day. Holding on to defensive end Frank Herron after a late visit to Texas was equally important. The Tigers also signed two ESPN 300 quarterbacks. Anthony Jennings is a dual-threat guy, while Hayden Rettig is more of a pocket passer.

Holes remaining: The Tigers missed out on a couple of top safeties, which is magnified with Eric Reid leaving early for the NFL. Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman both went to UCLA.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Needs filled: Adding some punch in the defensive line was a must, and the Bulldogs were able to keep one of the top players in the state at home in defensive end Chris Jones of Houston, Miss. With four senior receivers leaving, Mississippi State hopes that junior college transfer Jeremey Chappelle can step in and be a key cog in the passing game. He’s already enrolled in school. Fred Ross is also an ESPN 300 receiver.

Holes remaining: The Bulldogs would have liked to have added more offensive line help. In particular, losing Deon Mix of Batesville, Miss., to Auburn hurt. Mix, a four-star offensive guard prospect, had been committed to Mississippi State for eight months before backing off that pledge in the final weeks.

OLE MISS

Needs filled: Nobody in the country made the kind of signing day splash the Rebels did. They landed potential game-changers on offense and defense. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was the No. 1 prospect in the country. Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson were ranked as the No. 1 and No. 3 offensive tackles in the country. Laquon Treadwell was the No. 1 receiver in the country, and Antonio Conner was the No. 2 safety.

Holes remaining: The Rebels didn’t get everybody they wanted and lost out on a pair of coveted defensive ends. Chris Jones, the in-state player everybody was recruiting, stuck with his original commitment and signed with Mississippi State, while Elijah Daniel had a change of heart on signing day and went to Auburn.

TEXAS A&M

Needs filled: The Aggies reeled in a couple of highly rated receivers for Johnny Football to throw to, which was especially important with three senior starters departing and freshman Thomas Johnson unlikely to return. This class includes six new receivers, including ESPN 150 prospects Ricky Seals-Jones, Sebastian LaRue and LaQuvionte Gonzalez. The Aggies also picked up four defensive tackles, including ESPN 150 prospect Justin Manning.

Holes remaining: Getting defensive end Daeshon Hall to flip from Washington on signing day was big for the Aggies, and they would have liked to have had one more pass-rusher with Damontre Moore leaving early for the NFL draft. But defensive end Torrodney Prevot signed with Oregon after giving a hard look to Texas A&M.
LSU has announced its 2013 signing class.

The Tigers finished the day with 27 signees, including seven ESPN 150 and 15 ESPN 300 members. The Tigers grabbed a surprise commit Wednesday afternoon in ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J./Immaculata), who had been committed to Auburn since June of 2012. There was also talk early Wednesday morning that Bower intended to sign with Florida, but he later said his "heart led me" to LSU.

Other headliners of LSU's class are four-star prospects Kendell Beckwith of Jackson, La., who is the No. 4 athlete in the country, and four-star Jeryl Brazil, who is rated the No. 8 cornerback nationally.

LSU currently ranks seventh in ESPN's class rankings.

Here's a complete list of LSU's 2013 class.

LSU gets signing day surprise

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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Everybody loves signing day surprises. That is, if you're on the receiving end.

LSU added ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower on Wednesday after what was an eventful last 24 hours for the Somerville, N.J., product.

The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Bower had been committed to Auburn since last summer, but started looking around again after Gene Chizik was fired. He took visits to Florida, Florida State and LSU and then went back to Auburn this past weekend.

There were rumblings early Wednesday morning that Bower had told Florida he planned to sign with the Gators. Bower admitted that he thought it was going to be Florida at one point and then went back and forth before deciding on the Tigers.

Bower told the New Jersey Star Ledger that he didn't make a final decision until about two minutes before he walked into his high school library to announce.

"You have to follow your heart, and this is where my heart led me," Bower said.

Bower is ranked No. 132 overall in the ESPN 150 and the No. 11 defensive end prospect nationally.

With the Tigers losing six defensive linemen from this past season's team, Bower could get a chance to play early in 2013.

Final pre-signing day class rankings

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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We are just hours away from national signing day. I'm going to need all you readers to breathe and count to 10. It's almost here, which means it's almost over.

And with it being almost over, it's time to take another look at ESPN's RecruitingNation class rankings before national signing day. On the eve of the biggest recruiting day of the year, the SEC is still keeping it all in the family when it comes to the top classes in the country. The SEC has 13 teams ranked within the top 40 of the class rankings, with five coming within the top 10.

Florida and Alabama remain No. 1 and No. 2. The Gators have 26 verbal commitments, with 11 being ESPN 150 members and 15 being ESPN 300 members. The biggest members of Florida's class are top-rated cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who is the No. 3 player in the country, and top-rated running back Kelvin Taylor, who is the No. 8 prospect overall. The Gators have a few spots open and are still in the mix to sign defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, junior college defensive tackle Jarran Reed and wide receiver James Clark. Defensive end and current Auburn commit Tashawn Bower is also on Florida's radar.

Alabama received some good news Monday night when top-rated inside linebacker Reuben Foster picked the Crimson Tide over Auburn and Georgia. Foster gave the Tide its 23rd commitment and its 11th ESPN 150 member. Alabama also has 15 ESPN 300 commitments. The Tide could leapfrog the Gators on national signing day with some big names still interested in the Tide. Top defensive tackle and former Auburn commit Dee Liner seems to be a strong lean to the Tide, while four-star defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, who decommitted from Texas last week, could sign with Alabama as well. Running back Alvin Kamara and safety Vonn Bell, both ESPN 150 members, could also sign with the Tide.

Rounding out the top 10 from the SEC are LSU (No. 6), Texas A&M (No. 7) and Georgia (No. 9). Texas A&M and Georgia might have the best chances of the three of moving up. The Bulldogs are still in the mix for a handful of top prospects, including No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, four-star defensive lineman Montravius Adams, outside linebacker Matthew Thomas (No. 6 in the ESPN 150) and ESPN 300 defensive end Davin Bellamy. The Aggies are still in the mix for cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who is No. 4 in the ESPN 150, FSU athlete commit Levonte Whitfield, and committed defensive ends Daeshon Hall (Washington) and Torrodney Prevot (USC).

Keep an eye on Ole Miss and Auburn. Tunsil appears to be favoring Ole Miss over Georgia, and top recruit Robert Nkemdiche is all but signed sealed and delivered to the Rebels. Mississippi State defensive end commit Chris Jones could also flip to Ole Miss, and high-profile safety Antonio Conner is strongly considering the Rebels as well. Auburn is battling Georgia for Adams, and could flip Ole Miss defensive end commit Elijah Daniel, after he officially visited Auburn over the weekend.

Here's a complete look at where SEC teams stand in the final class rankings before signing day:

1. Florida -- 26 (11 ESPN 150, 15 ESPN 300)
2. Alabama -- 23 (11 ESPN 150, 15 ESPN 300)
6. LSU -- 26 (6 ESPN 150, 14 ESPN 300)
7. Texas A&M -- 32 (6 ESPN 150, 11 ESPN 300)
9. Georgia -- 30 (5 ESPN 150, 12 ESPN 300)
12. Ole Miss -- 23 (2 ESPN 150, 7 ESPN 300)
14. Auburn -- 20 (3 ESPN 150, 6 ESPN 300)
17. South Carolina -- 21 (2 ESPN 150, 4 ESPN 300)
21. Vanderbilt -- 25 (0 ESPN 150, 3 ESPN 300)
27. Mississippi State -- 22 (1 ESPN 150, 3 ESPN 300)
29. Tennessee -- 19 (1 ESPN 150, 2 ESPN 300)
36. Missouri -- 19 (0 ESPN 150, 2 ESPN 300)
39. Arkansas -- 21 (2 ESPN 150, 2 ESPN 300)
When it comes to recruiting, the readers believe it's still Alabama's world.

Florida might be No. 1 in ESPN's class rankings, but with more than 7,100 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Alabama was picked to take home the recruiting class crown by grabbing 40 percent of the vote. Alabama currently has the No. 2 class, with 22 commits (10 ESPN 150 members).

Alabama has a chance to add to its already impressive class with a handful of ESPN 150 members still heavily considering the Crimson Tide, including top middle linebacker Reuben Foster, safety Antonio Conner, defensive tackle Dee Liner and running back Alvin Kamara. Adding a couple of those names might propel the Tide over Florida.

The Gators were third in our poll, as Texas collected 27 percent of the vote to come in second. The Aggies have the nation's No. 7 recruiting class and 32 commitments. A&M has six ESPN 150 members and is hoping to add to that number Wednesday with cornerback Mackensie Alexander and athlete Levonte Whitfield still in the mix.

Florida collected 18 percent. While the Gators would like to add to their class, the headliners might already be in hand. The Gators are still in the mix for four-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is committed to USC, but is still considering UF and Florida State. He's ranked No. 14 nationally by ESPN recruiting services and is the top remaining prospect on the Gators' board. ESPN 300 defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick is still strongly considering UF as well.

Georgia was fourth with 10 percent of the vote, while LSU grabbed 5 percent. The Bulldogs could have a very exciting signing day with Foster, Kamara, Liner, top offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and stud defensive lineman Montravius Adams still looking at Georgia. Landing a few those big names would shoot the Dawgs up the ranks, for sure.

LSU might not have a very exciting signing day. The Tigers own the nation's No. 6 class, with 26 commitments (six ESPN 150 members), but it looks like the staff is waiting on No. 1 Robert Nkemdiche and Auburn defensive end commit Tashawn Bower. Ole Miss is way ahead for Nkemdiche, while it could be tough to flip Bower.
We are a week away from national signing day and the SEC is yet again cleaning up in the recruiting game. Five teams -- Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia -- currently rank within the top 10 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation class rankings.

Florida and Alabama sit atop the rankings, but who will be No. 1 once signing day has come and gone? Well, we're asking our faithful readers to take a stab at peering into their crystal ball.

SportsNation

Which of these schools will have the best recruiting class?

  •  
    40%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,358)

The Gators have 26 total commitments, with eleven of those pledges being ESPN 150 members and 15 ranking inside the ESPN 300. Florida is still looking to close its class with a few big names, and the Gators are still in the running for a few ESPN 150 members, like defensive tackle defensive tackle Montravius Adams cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Mackensie Alexander, and defensive end Elijah Daniel. Top tackle Laremy Tunsil from right down the road in Lake City, Fla., seems like a long shot, but he's still on the Gators' radar. One-time Gator commit and ESPN 150 linebacker Quinton Powell could get back into Florida's fold as well.

Alabama has 22 commitments, with 10 ESPN 150 members and 14 ESPN 300 members. Tunsil is seriously considering the Crimson Tide, while former Auburn defensive tackle commit Dee Liner, who is the No. 4 defensive tackle in the country, is now thought to be a heavy lean to Alabama. Top defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes is set to visit Alabama this weekend, and Tide coaches are also looking to snatch ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner of Batesville, Miss., away from the state of Mississippi. Alabama is still after Mississippi State defensive end commit Chris Jones (ESPN 150) and top inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who was once committed to Alabama.

Texas A&M might have 32 commitments (six ESPN 150 members), but the Aggies are still looking for a couple more players to add to the bunch. Committed defensive end prospects Daeshon Hall (Washington) and Torrodney Prevot (USC) are still in the mix. So is FSU athlete commit Levonte Whitfield, who is another ESPN 150 member.

LSU has surged into the top 10 and now has 27 commitments, including six ESPN 150 members. Auburn defensive end commit Tashawn Bower (ESPN 150) and four-star linebacker Duke Riley visited LSU. Swaying Bower away from Auburn would be a major get for LSU, as the Tigers look to add some help up front with the departures of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Top recruit Robert Nkemdiche has LSU near the top of his list, but LSU's staff will have to do a lot of work if it wants to steal him away from Ole Miss. Getting a last-minute visit this weekend won't hurt.

Then there's Georgia, which is still in the running for a lot of top prospects. Tunsil is the top remaining prospect, and it looks like Georgia is right at the top for his services along with Alabama. Adams is also high on the Bulldogs' radar, and he is very, very interested in Georgia as well. Foster has Georgia on his short list and ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara is of high priority to the Bulldogs' staff.

SEC recruiting scorecard

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
11:05
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National signing day is just around the corner (Feb. 6), and with things really, really heating up on the recruiting trail, we thought we'd take a look at how all 14 SEC teams are doing when it comes to finding the next college stars.

The SEC currently has five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's RecruitingNation class rankings and 12 in the top 40. Florida, which has 26 commitments, including 11 in the ESPN 150, owns the nation's No. 1 class. Alabama is second with 22 pledges (10 ESPN 150 members).

Here's how the entire SEC is doing with only a week left until pens are put to paper:

ALABAMA

2013 verbal commitments: 22

Spotlight: Yulee, Fla., athlete Derrick Henry is big, physical and very athletic. Plus, he's already on campus. He's versatile and could play multiple positions at the college level. After breaking the national high school career rushing yards record, he'll probably spend most of his time in Alabama's backfield.

ESPN 150 members: 10 (Henry; WR Robert Foster of Monaca, Pa.; DE Jonathan Allen of Ashburn, Va.; DE Tim Williams of Baton Rouge, La.; TE-H O.J. Howard of Prattville, Ala.; RB Altee Tenpenny of North Little Rock, Ark.; QB-PP Cooper Bateman of Salt Lake City, Utah; RB Tyren Jones of Marietta, Ga.; CB Maurice Smith of Sugar Land, Texas; OG Grant Hill of Huntsville, Ala.)

ARKANSAS

2013 verbal commitments: 17

Spotlight: Tight end Hunter Henry of Little Rock, Ark., is the gem of this class after being very active on the offensive side in high school. He isn't the greatest blocker, but he creates mismatches over the middle of the field with his size and speed. There was some concern that he might go elsewhere, but Bret Bielema and his staff secured his commitment earlier this month.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Henry)

AUBURN

2013 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: Defensive end Carl Lawson of Alpharetta, Ga., is the headliner of this class, but he's looking around a bit at other schools. Clemson and Tennessee are still in the race for Lawson's services. He'd be a major get/loss for Gus Malzahn's first class. He current ranks as the No. 2 defensive end in the country and is the No. 2 overall prospect in the country.

ESPN 150 members: 3 (Lawson; DE Tashawn Bower of Somerville, N.J.; QB Jeremy Johnson of Montomgery, Ala.)

FLORIDA

2013 verbal commitments: 26

Spotlight: Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III of Tampa, Fla., is rated the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the country and is the No. 3 overall player in the nation. He's one of the more complete players out there and it looks like he'll be able to play right away for the Gators when he arrives in Gainesville.

ESPN 150 members: 11 (Hargreaves; Caleb Brantley of Crescent City, Fla.; RB Kelvin Taylor of Belle Glade, Fla.; OLB Daniel McMillian of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Demarcus Robinson of Fort Valley, Ga.; S Keanu Neal of Bushnell, Fla.; S Marcell Harris of Orlando, Fla.; ATH Alvin Bailey of Seffner, Fla.; OLB Matt Rolin of Ashburn, Va.; LB Alex Anzalone of Wyomissing, Pa.)

GEORGIA

2013 verbal commitments: 29

Spotlight: Cornerback Shaq Wiggins of Tyrone, Ga., is a top corner prospect, despite his smaller frame. He might not have elite size, but Wiggins plays like a bigger, more physical defensive back. He can cover a lot of ground and has a chance to make an instant impact for the Bulldogs' defense in 2013.

ESPN 150 members: 5 (Wiggins; ATH Tramel Terry of Goose Creek, S.C.; QB-PP Brice Ramsey of Kingsland, Ga.; S Tray Matthews of Newnan, Ga.; C Brandon Kublanow of Marietta, Ga.)

KENTUCKY

2013 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Junior college defensive end Za'Darius Smith from East Mississippi Community College is Kentucky's top get for the 2013 class, and what's even better is that he's already on campus. He excels as both a pass-rusher and a run-stopper and has shown good speed along the way. His speed off the edge will be a welcomed addition to Kentucky's defense.

ESPN 150 members: None

LSU

2013 verbal commitments: 27

Spotlight: Athlete Kendell Beckwith of Jackson, La., was a major addition to LSU's class early this month. He was mostly a dual-threat quarterback in high school, but could play both wide receiver and outside linebacker at the college level. His speed and mobility will help him get on the field early to help the Tigers.

ESPN 150 members: 6 (Beckwith; Jeryl Brazil of Loranger, La.; OT Ethan Pocic of Lemont, Ill; DT Greg Gilmore of Hope Mills, N.C.; TE-H DeSean Smith of Lake Charles, La.; DT Maquedius Bain of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2013 verbal commitments: 22

Spotlight: Defensive end Chris Jones of Houston, Miss., could develop into a trouble-making pass-rusher. He has good size and quickness and flew off the line during his senior year. He continues to get a lot of attention from other schools, especially Alabama, so keeping him will be a tough chore for Dan Mullen and his staff.

ESPN 150 members: 1 (Jones)

MISSOURI

2013 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: DT Josh Augusta of Peoria, Ill., is Mizzou's top-rated commitment right now. He was a big January get for the Tigers' staff and is a major athlete who played multiple positions at the high school level. He could play along the defensive line or offensive line in college. He played some tight end in high school, but doesn't project there at the next level.

ESPN 150 members: None

OLE MISS

2013 verbal commitments: 23

Spotlight: Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell of Crete, Ill., was a major pickup for the Rebels' staff. He's rated as the nation's No. 1 receiver and while he might be a taller prospect, he's very explosive. He has the ability to be a big-time deep threat for the Rebels and should also make plenty of plays after the catch.

ESPN 150 members: 2 (Treadwell; DE Elijah Daniel of Avon, Ind.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

2013 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin of Hoschton, Ga., is a big-bodied lineman who should be a solid run-stopper with his girth and explosion. He doesn't have great height, but he has a big enough body that he should cause plenty of problems for opposing linemen at the next level.

ESPN 150 members: 2 (Griffin; RB David Williams of Philadelphia, Pa.)

TENNESSEE

2013 verbal commitments: 17

Spotlight: Quarterback Riley Ferguson of Matthews, N.C., has a big-time arm and shows pretty good mobility in the pocket. He also has a lot of confidence in his arm and his throws. The coaching turnover didn't hurt Tennessee's chances of keeping Ferguson, who could push for time once he gets on campus.

ESPN 150 members: None

TEXAS A&M

2013 verbal commitments: 32

Spotlight: Tight end Derrick Griffin of Rosenberg, Texas, should cause major matchup issues for his opponents when he gets to the college level. He's the nation's top tight end/H-back and could be used all over the field by Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies' staff. He's versatile enough to be a major asset for A&M in the near future.

ESPN 150 members: 6 (Griffin; ATH Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy, Texas; ATH LaQuvionte Gonzalez of Cedar Hill, Texas; QB Kohl Stewart of Houston, Texas; DT Justin Manning of Dallas; WR Sebastian LaRue of Santa Monica, Calif.)

VANDERBILT

2013 verbal commitments: 24

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Jay Woods of Jackson, Ga., is a powerful body up front, who will be even better at the next level once he adds some bulk. He has good speed off the line and can clog holes up front. He'll be used as a run-stopper and can get to the quarterback when needed.

ESPN 150 members: None

Recruiting podcast: Verbal Commitment

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
4:00
PM ET
ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower stops by to update his recruiting, plus the latest on OU, why Lane Kiffin's back in Tennessee, how Hawaii is taking Florida prospects and much, much more.

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