Recruiting: Clemson vs. LSU in the Class of 2020
John Garcia, Jr.
As the sports world makes its final preparations for Monday night's college football title clash between Clemson and LSU, fans shouldn't view the championship game as an end point for either program's current run.
Recruiting remains good to each and it will be clear early in the 2020 season with some of the big names brought on board. Both Dabo Swinney and Ed Orgeron have put together incredible recruiting classes while making their on-field run this season, each finishing within the top five of the SI All-American rankings as the Early Signing Period wrapped up in December. These Tiger rosters will reload even as the spotlight stars like Joe Burrow, Isaiah Simmons, Grant Delpit, Travis Etienne and others play what is likely to be their last in college uniforms.
A Look at Clemson's Class:
Clemson took home the early title as the top overall class of 2020 thanks to how wide it cast its recruiting net. Not only did the ACC power pull in prospects from a dozen states, but it took who could be considered the top prospect in at least five of them in quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (California), defensive tackle Bryan Bresee (Maryland), defensive end Myles Murphy (Georgia), linebacker Trenton Simpson (North Carolina) as well as top Floridians in running back Demarckus Bowman and lineman Demonte Capehart.
Just how Swinney's staff locked in some of the class headliners from coast to coast is just as impressive.
The potential heir to Trevor Lawrence, Uigalelei has been coveted since his middle school years in the quarterback hotbed that is southern California. Just one current Tiger player, wide receiver Joseph Ngata, hails from the Golden State. Bresee is the prospect most have considered the best in the class since coverage of the 2020 cycle began while Murphy held that title in the fertile state of Georgia. CU locked each up before the 2019 season began and neither budged.
Most impressive in this lane was its recruitment of Bowman, the clear top tailback in Florida and a local legend in the making at Lakeland (Fla.) High School. This program is known for fielding future Florida Gators among its elite prospects dating back to Urban Meyer leading the program and that buzz came with Bowman's rise earlier in his prep career. Even after he picked Clemson over the summer, the chatter of Dan Mullen pursuing his pledge failed to cease. At least publicly, there was rarely a doubt Bowman would ink orange and purple, not blue, in the end.
That typical Clemson status when it comes to recruits committing and truly shutting the process down used to be a two-way street in that CU wouldn't make plays at prospects committed to other programs. That was not the case in 2020 as the Tigers flipped an LSU commitment in defensive back Malcolm Greene on December 18. It also landed Simpson after a long commitment to Auburn, although he decommitted from those Tigers well prior to picking the ACC's version. Clemson didn't even offer Simpson a scholarship until the final weekend of visits in December, where even one of the nation's most coveted defenders treated it as if it was a no-brainer to immediately jump on board.
There's also a layer of prospects in the 23-man class that fit a previously prominent method of blending evaluation and need. Some of the less-heralded prospects on board, from long and athletic tight end Sage Ennis to interior offensive line prospect Trenton Howard, project as the types we look back on down the road and wonder why there wasn't more buzz about them. Those notions exist in current Tigers like Simmons, who was a tweener defender from Kansas that flew somewhat under the radar, among others. Mix in physical specimens with high ceilings like Canadian wide receiver Ajou Ajou or Peach State running back Kobe Pryor and the Tiger haul has a bit of everything within.
Clemson's big miss was top in-state defensive line prospect Jordan Burch, who committed to rival South Carolina December 18 but remains unsigned.
A Look at LSU's Class:
These Tigers also missed on Burch, but had a more curious ride on signing day. Not only did a pair of wide receivers flip elsewhere in Rakim Jarrett (Maryland) and Jermaine Burton (Georgia), but it lost the aforementioned Greene as well. On the flip side, it added a pair of possible multi-year starters that same day in south Florida offensive lineman Marcus Dumervil and Georgia linebacker Phillip Webb.
The bulk of the 2020 class headed to Baton Rouge has long established star power at the top. The two key recruiting wins to hold perception in the class were about as big as it gets nationally in cornerback Elias Ricks and tight end Arik Gilbert, each atop their respective positions.
Ricks is the longstanding extension of the 'DBU' mantra LSU is known for but the win wasn't an easy, uncontested one despite the California native picking the Tigers on Christmas Day 2018. Alabama, Ohio State, USC and others got visits and pushed for a flip. Of course the 2019 season LSU had helped the cause to hold onto Ricks, who announced his recruitment was officially over as the program beat Alabama for the first time in nearly a decade.
Gilbert is the biggest indication of the new perception that can be attached to the Tigers should the offense continue to rack up points with relative ease in the years to come. The no-doubt top tight end in the land, from the state of Georgia, was said to be trending to Alabama throughout the late stages of the process before going public with a pick to LSU in October. Gilbert wouldn't take another trip elsewhere before signing with the program December 18.
In looking at the rest of LSU's class, there is plenty of expectation met on both sides of the ball. Within state lines, the Tigers locked in three of the top four in-state talents in dynamic wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, athletic defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy and 330-pound defender Jacobian Guillory. Louisiana native TJ Finley is a big-armed passer long pledged to the program while wide receiver Koy Moore is another quality offensive weapon being brought in.
Outside of state lines LSU showed good national reach, too. 10 states are already represented in the haul including three each from Florida and Texas, including recent commitment Dwight McGlothern. The secondary class is another very good one as he and Ricks combine with more out-of-staters in Jordan Toles and Lorando Johnson for a versatile haul.
LSU currently stands at fourth in the SI All-American recruiting rankings, with the chance to move up ahead of National Signing Day February 5 with top talent like defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson among those left unsigned into the New Year.