SEC football recruiting: Alabama, South Carolina, LSU host top prospects

Al Messerschmidt

The SEC may have not won the national title for the first time in eight years, but it is the unquestioned champion of recruiting. And several SEC schools had busy weekends. Here is what I'm hearing.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Nick Saban welcomed in five-star linebacker Rashaan Evans, of Auburn High School and four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam, of Kentucky.

Evans' father gave intel on his visit to AL.com.

"Reuben Foster was Rashaan's host for the weekend. They were obviously good friends and teammates when Reuben was at Auburn High," Evans' father said. "Reuben couldn't say enough about how much he loves being at Alabama and said he really thinks Rashaan would be a great fit playing alongside him in the linebacker corps at Alabama. They had a great time together the whole weekend."

As did Kipp Adams of 247Sports($). It seems Evans had been subjected to some negative recruiting about Alabama.

"The one thing I learned from this visit is that things that people said about Alabama were not really true. A lot of people said the coaches really do not care about the players, but I actually found out they want them to have the highest level of success on the field and in life, as they want the type of players who are looking for both.

"Their goal is to help their players achieve the highest level of success, and that includes the NFL. That shows they definitely care about their players. Honestly they could get me to where I want to go."

Evans also spoke with ESPN($).

"He just pretty much told me they needed me and they wanted me," he said. "He just told me they were looking for a guy that can be a pass rusher and a guy that can get to the quarterback. They feel like I can be that guy."

I believe that Alabama is a better fit for Evans because of the position he would play in Tuscaloosa (pass-rushing outside linebacker), as opposed to a hybrid linebacker/safety star position. But I am not changing my pick from Auburn. Evans lives in Auburn, and both parents went to Auburn. UCLA, Alabama and Auburn will all visit Evans in the coming weeks before he makes his decision.

Elam, who at 370 pounds seems like a perfect fit for Saban's 3-4 defense, had a great time on his visit and Alabama people I trust are slightly more confident about landing the massive nose guard after the visit.

Alabama is almost certainly going to end up with the top class in the country.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Andrew Mike told Richard Davenport that seeing a live surgery was a highlight of the trip.

Offensive lineman Andrew Mike of Tucson, (Ariz.) Sabino said the torn labrum surgery he was able to see on Friday was the first surgery he's seen. He's leaning towards studying pre-med.

With a visit to Florida on deck, and the Gators needing offensive linemen, I still think Mike ends up in Gainesville. But Bret Bielema has a great history with offensive linemen as well, so I cannot completely count out Arkansas.

On the whole, Arkansas' class does not measure up with the top classes in the ridiculous recruiting landscape that is the SEC West. Bret Bielema and his staff have a great reputation for developing players and finding hidden gems, but Arkansas is not closing the talent gap all that much off a year that saw the Razorbacks go winless in the conference.

Auburn Tigers

Auburn hosted two top pass rushers over the weekend in McDonough (Ga.)'s Andrew Williams and Louisiana's Davon Godchaux (LSU commitment).

Williams spoke with Keith Niebuhr of Auburn Undercover($).

What was the highlight of this weekend's official visit?

"Just being around the players," Williams said. "We're all cool. We all come from the same place. No one's arrogant or cocky. We just all love football. It's really a humbling experience being around these guys."

Williams talked at length this weekend with defensive line coach Rodney Garner about what his role at Auburn would be.

"Four guys are leaving, and it's really sweet because they rotate 12," Williams said. "In two years, nine guys will be gone, so this class they really emphasized is important for Auburn."

As did Godchaux ($).

Davon Godchaux still considers himself an LSU commitment, but the 4-star end from Plaquemine (La.) said Sunday after an official visit to Auburn "It's going to be a hard decision."

"It was pretty good," Godchaux said of the visit. "I loved it. I loved everything about it. Seriously. Everything. .. From stepping on campus to stepping off."

Though Clemson feels it has a shot, I expect Auburn to land Williams. I do not think it stands much chance at all with Godchaux, especially not with LSU getting the next visit.

The Tigers also welcomed in four-star guard Braden Smith, an excellent guard out of Kansas. I haven't been able to get in contact with Smith for an interview, and I haven't seen any other interviews from him, either. He doesn't really like talking with the media all that much.

Florida Gators

The Gators are moving to a spread offense and are quickly trying to bring in talent to fit the scheme. Over the weekend, they hosted four talented prospects, including three on the offensive side of the football. The pitch? Early playing time and fit.

The top player was Derrell Scott, a four-star running back out of Havelock (N.C.). It was his first trip to Florida. He spoke about it with Ryan Bartow ($).

"South Carolina and Tennessee have recruited me the longest and hardest so they are on top," Scott said. "Florida is number three. But I just got home and still need to think about it and talk about it with my dad."

Scott announces Jan. 27. I expect him to pick South Carolina over Tennessee, but am not extremely confident in that prediction.

Treon Harris, a four-star quarterback/athlete commitment to Florida State out of Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, also made the trip. This is an extremely interesting visit. Most big schools were not offering Harris as a quarterback until very recently, while FSU did so over the spring. At 5'11, with a lot of mobility and an average arm, Harris seems like a better fit for a spread offense, which is what Florida is installing, than a pro-style offense, as Florida State runs. Official visits to Auburn, another spread offense, and Miami, remain on deck. This recruitment is worth watching.

One of the players UF brought in over the weekend was Isaiah McKenzie, a lightning-quick slot receiver type out of South Florida. McKenzie was one committed to Notre Dame, and still plans to visit the school along with Ole Miss. Can the in-state Gators get the three-star to cancel those visits and commit? That would be my plan if I coached for Florida.

On the defensive side, Florida brought in four-star cornerback commitment J.C. Jackson, of Immokalee (Fla.). Immokalee has produced some circus-like recruitments of late, and Jackson is a battle between Florida and Florida State. The worst kept secret in recruiting is that Jackson's dad does not want him at Florida State. FSU does expect Jackson to visit Tallahassee within the next two weekends, but that might be up in the air. I don't get the sense that either school is incredibly confident in the decision of a player from Immokalee.

LSU Tigers

LSU has one of the top recruiting classes in the country, but also has plenty of room left, and two huge names were in town: five-stars Malachi Dupre (receiver) and Lorenzo Carter (defensive end).

ESPN: Dupre talks LSU ($)

"It was a good visit. I had a lot of fun," Dupre said. "I just honestly need to go on the rest of my visits and see the other schools on official visits. I'm on my way to Alabama right now, and will be there Sunday and Monday. Then I have FSU next weekend and UCLA the 31st."

At this point, I strongly believe Dupre will sign with LSU due to geography and the Tigers' need at receiver. I'll never count out LSU when recruiting defensive linemen, but I do think Georgia, thanks to Mark Richt's strong connection with Carter's family, will win out for the Georgia defensive end.

However, LSU may have a good shot at Mississippi four-star defensive lineman Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss commitment), who also made the trip.

South Carolina Gamecocks

This was a major visit weekend for South Carolina, as the Gamecocks hosted a five-star and three four-star commitments. South Carolina's commitment list is underwhelming, but if the Gamecocks can close strong, it will look much more impressive.

Damian Prince, the five-star tackle out of District Heights (Md.) Bishop McNamara, has been high on South Carolina for a while now. He is not a big talker, but I believe South Carolina has a solid shot, as does Maryland, the hometown school, and Florida, as he has plans to visit Gainesville in late January before deciding on National Signing Day.

A pair of four-star cornerbacks were in to see the Gamecocks as well. South Florida's Chris Lammons, and Atlanta's Wesley Green, are both very high on South Carolina. Talking with people this weekend in South Florida, I came away with the distinct impression that Lammons will pick South Carolina over Wisconsin.

Green actually named South Carolina as his leader ($), but with a visit to UGA on deck, I'm not confident in making a prediction for him.

On a related note, I had a discussion with some in the coaching industry about market efficiency with recruiting. One really big trend is for a lot of teams to want big defensive backs, the norm at schools like Alabama, Florida and Florida State. This desire for size has perhaps caused some undersized, but still very good cornerbacks (like Lammons and Green) to become undervalued. South Carolina does an excellent job of taking advantage of this, as does Miami.

South Carolina is also still working to flip Dexter Wideman, a four-star defensive line commitment to Florida State from Saluda (S.C.). Gamecocks insiders are very confident that he will flip to the in-state school ($).

"It was awesome. I had a great time and enjoyed myself," Wideman said. "I spent a lot of time with the coaches. I went out and had a good time. They showed me how it was going to be to be a Gamecock."

The thing to watch with Wideman will be his planned official visit to Tallahassee. Will he take it? If he does, FSU has a chance to hold on. If not, look for a flip to South Carolina.

Texas A&M Aggies

It's no secret that Texas A&M needs to get better on defense in a hurry, particularly with an offense that will likely take a step back after the departure of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and other key contributors.

Texas A&M welcomed several official visitors over the weekend, including Houston (Texas) four-star linebacker Otaro Alaka, a Texas commitment.

I suspect A&M has a very good shot of flipping Alaka, as it does great recruiting work in Houston. But Charlie Strong could also have a big say in things.

Another linebacker, Kenny Young, of New Orleans, checked out Texas A&M as well. Young is a legitimate three-way race between LSU, UCLA and the Aggies. Official visits to Arkansas, Oklahoma State, UCLA and LSU are still planned. This is too close to call.

Three-star safety Mattrell McGraw, of New Orleans, also took in College Station.

Like Alaka, I give A&M a good chance of signing McGraw.

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