Is this the end of LSU's run of dominance? Will Nick Saban now pick and choose what Louisiana recruits he wants? Are the walls around the borders eroding? Has Les Miles lost his grip?
After the jump, we discuss just exactly happened with the Collins decision last night.
For those who don't really follow recruiting, here is a quick recap: Landon Collins is from Geismar, Louisiana (even if he wanted to say "I'm from New Orleans" on National TV). He is the top-ranked player in the state of Louisiana for 2012. He is an immense, 5-star caliber talent. He's good friends with current LSU safety Eric Reid and current Alabama running back, Ed Lacy. His girlfriend, reportedly, is heading to school in Alabama (perhaps at Alabama, I'm not sure). Landon narrowed his choices to LSU and Alabama. Both sides believed they had him. He picked Alabama last night, much to his family's apparent dismay. Backlash ensues.
Like with most recruiting stories, we'll likely never know the full story here. I'm going to do my best to put together the pieces from the information I have. Landon's family looked upset when he picked Alabama, as you can see from the video above. They all stood there in shock, his mother shaking her head. After a few awkward seconds, his girlfriend starts clapping and lets out a "yayy!!!" and then the family joins in mundanely clapping.
As can be expected, the national media has run with the whole "what dastardly parents to not support their child!" angle. That, at best, is tunnel-vision perspective. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone parents who do not support their soon-to-be-adult children making their own decisions. But simply looking at that tape and surmising they are doing a terrible parenting job is amiss. They fail to show/mention the clip ESPN had later where he hugged his mother and you could make out her lips saying, "I can't believe you just did that." Perhaps I'm interpreting events through "purple and gold glasses" but that line, to me, indicates some type of deception was involved.
Let me be clear, I like Landon Collins. I wish no ill will upon him. If Alabama is where he wants to play football, well, it sucks for LSU, but I hope he has a good and prosperous career against everyone but LSU. I don't think he's a punk or an idiot or a thug or trash. I don't think we "never wanted him." However, there was/is some deception going on about his commitment.
Without revealing too much information, three of the most trusted LSU recruiting writers, Sonny Shipp, Shea Dixon and Derek Ponamsky all predicted Collins to choose LSU. I've followed all three at times, and none of them are the type to try to drum up interest in their sites by lying about a recruit. They give the news as they know it, and often err on the side of caution when talking about recruits. All that to say: I don't think they were simply predicting Landon to LSU so get pats on the back and sell more subscriptions. They honestly believed that. So why were they so sure?
Well, a source that's about as good as it gets said that Collins had contact with LSU coaches on Wednesday night and not with Bama. That contact was not to deliver bad news, either. Reportedly, on LSU's side, Collins said he was coming. Is that mildly upsetting? Sure. It's certainly deceptive, but it wouldn't be the first time this has happened for or against LSU. Some reports say Terrance Toliver told Florida he was picking them, only to choose LSU on NSD. It happens.
However, what's really shocking to me is the reaction of the family. They looked stunned. To me, it went beyond the family simply "not agreeing" with Landon's decision. It came across as if this is the first they had heard of it. Like they were all expecting him to choose LSU. Could it have been acting to help deflect criticism from Landon? Sure. Could that reaction legitimately just be scorned parents? Sure. But it could also be that Landon told them he was picking LSU, only to don Alabama gear at the last second, on national television. How would you feel if your son told you he was doing one thing, so you paid a few grand in flights to support him, only to see him completely back track at the last second? I imagine shock would be near the top of the list.
From the point of his commitment, everything went awkward. The interviewer, the crowd, even the announcers were all kinda "WTF just happened?" It's as if no one actually believed he would pick Alabama. Why such shock? Just 30 minutes before a kid from Georgia picked South Carolina over UGA. There wasn't near the shock and reaction. Was the shock just reaction to Landon's family's reaction?
In truth, we will likely never know the full details of what happened. Landon now claims he knew it was Alabama for two years. He tweets something about how "he's shocked by the reaction of people from Louisiana." Which leads me to another topic, that I think is important to discuss: recruiting backlash.
It's never okay, under any circumstances, for fans to attempt to destroy a kid and his morale simply because he didn't choose the school you wanted. As far as I'm concerned, those who wished death threats on Joe McKnight should be sentenced to lowest levels of hell. It's pathetic, really.
That being said, the backlash is often not uninvited. A number of Louisiana recruits from the past decade have chosen to go out of state. Here recently: Joe McKnight, Eddie Lacy, Janzen Jackson, Bradley Sylve, Greg Robinson, Trovon Reed, Darrington Sentimore and now, Denzel Devall and Landon Collins. Each of chose some type of rival to LSU: USC (at the height of the split National Title wars), Auburn, Tennessee and Bama (all natural SEC rivals). Yet only two of the above experienced any significant backlash, pending another in Landon Collins. So what trait do those three share? Well, deception.
Sylve, Robinson, Reed and Sentimore all made their commitments months in advance to signing day. They were open and honest about looking around. All four were targeted by LSU to some degree. Lacy, announced on signing day, but was highly thought to be a grade risk. Even still he was transparent about his process. When I say transparent, I mean that recruiting insiders for LSU believed these guys stood a great chance of not choosing LSU. Other than maybe some light message board criticism, none of these players were truly antagonized for their decisions. Most got the, "Well, that sucks" treatment, and then people moved on. And all of them were highly talented, coveted recruits that LSU wanted. So I refuse to believe it's simply that fans didn't care because they were "leftovers" or whatever. The way they carried their process mitigated the fan response. They minimized the backlash by being transparent.
McKnight, Jackson and Collins were different. McKnight was pretty mum as far as interviews go, but there was definitely a good bit of "leading on" going on, especially since Joe apparently loved USC for years but waited till signing day to announce. The great book, Meat Market, also says Joe was sending mocking texts about LSU RB coach Larry Porter while on his visit to Ole Miss. Joe certainly lead LSU on to some degree.
Jackson was committed to LSU for months, even ensuring reporters his commitment was firm in the days leading up to signing day, despite murmurings that he was heading elsewhere. Signing day comes, Jackson lies about his fax machine being broken and delays his announcement to the next day. Finally he inks with Tennessee, shocking LSU fans and coaches. All along it was a ploy by Lane Kiffin. Deception to the highest degree.
Finally, Collins, long known to be a 50/50 Alabama/LSU split. As noted above, he apparently let our coaches know where he was heading. Then the reaction of his family. I think it's fair to say there was at least some amount of deception in his process.
None of this means that the small, crazy sect of LSU fans should slash his tires, wish for him to break his legs and die in a fire, should be excused. BUT, it also doesn't mean the players don't play some hand in what happens to them. For Collins to tweet that he "didn't expect this reaction", he's either lying, or the most naive 17-year-old kid in the world.
Which brings me to the last point: this could all be a ruse. What if the family was genuinely shocked because, well, they know Landon is going to LSU? Landon insists his "mom can't flip him." He says he's known for 2 years. Maybe he's telling the truth. But, I don't believe this is over. Last year Cyrus Kouandjio picked Auburn on signing day, only to renege days later and flip to Alabama... largely because of his family. Family has a huge, huge say in almost any recruit's decision (and they should). So even if Landon thinks he is set, there's no saying what a month of visits from LSU coaches and family and friends in his ear could do. And there's also that slim possibility that Landon himself is just playing the game. Maybe his plan, all along, is to flip to LSU on signing day and "shock the world." Stranger things have happened in recruiting. I do know that we are certain to hear plenty of rumors and murmurings over the next month. Gear up for a wild ride.
Regardless, even if Landon winds up at Bama, it's not the end of the world. As I told the guys last night, we've won a National Title with Craig Steltz as a starting safety. Another with Jack Hunt. It's one player. It's not the end of the world. It sucks, yes. But LSU will be fine.