Three-Point Stance: Ranking recent commits, LSU, Tennessee
Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney has thoughts on five recent commitments, looks at coach Brian Kelly at LSU and addresses the latest news coming out of the Tennessee fallout from former coach Jeremy Pruitt.
FACT OR FICTION: No program will beat LSU for Shelton Sampson
RANKING RECENT PLEDGES
There have been tons of commitments over the last few days as prospects come off the board heading into their seasons but these are five 2023 pledges that stuck out most to me:
Chase Bisontis - Texas A&M: Bisontis has kept a low profile throughout his recruitment and while his commitment to the Aggies over the weekend wasn’t a surprise it is definitely huge for Texas A&M. The Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep four-star offensive lineman is exactly what you think of in a prototypical North Jersey prospect: Tough, blue-collar, not afraid to battle and grind all day - and that will be welcomed in the SEC. After a historic 2022 class led by elite defensive linemen, the Aggies have been slow early in the 2023 group but things could heat up soon.
Joenel Aguero - Georgia: Aguero made two trips to LSU this spring and new coach Brian Kelly went to the same high school at Danvers (Mass.) St. John’s Prep plus Aguero talked up the Tigers and talked down Georgia a little bit at the Rivals Camp Series in Philadelphia. Whether that was a smokescreen or his relationship with Georgia ramped up again, the Bulldogs beat LSU, Ohio State and others for Aguero and it’s big. So is he. Aguero is a big, physical defensive back who should fit perfectly in Athens and that’s only one reason why his commitment is so big.
Walker Lyons - Stanford: The Cardinal are coming off their worst season in over a decade but there were two massive success stories in recent days as four-star DE Hunter Clegg committed to Stanford and then Lyons followed as well. USC, BYU and Utah were all very involved with the four-star tight end from Folsom, Calif., but Lyons said he found the best of both the academic and athletic worlds in Stanford and could not turn it down.
Payton Kirkland - Texas: Alabama, Miami, Florida, Michigan State and Oklahoma were listed as the top-five for Kirkland heading into his decision but as things got closer it became clear behind the scenes that Texas was a very serious player here. The four-star offensive lineman from Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips never visited Austin but from being recruited by Kyle Flood and feeling the love from the Longhorns, that was a big selling point. Kirkland has been very, very good at some events but needs to keep that consistency and he will be a special player in Austin.
Olaus Alinen - Alabama: Alabama beat Miami and others for Alinen, who could be one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. Here’s why: So many times over the years, these massive brutes from the Midwest have shown up at national events and struggled because they’re just not used to the elite speed coming off the edge. Three or four years later, they’re first-round NFL Draft picks. Alinen struggled a little at Future 50 but the Finland native who’s now playing at Windsor (Conn.) Loomis Chafee just might not be prepped yet for that level of talent. At Alabama, under arguably the best coaching staff in America, Alinen will have an opportunity to excel and grow more accustomed to what the SEC has to offer.
LET’S GIVE KELLY A FAIR SHAKE
Some of the stuff Brian Kelly talked about at SEC Media Days, you have to roll your eyes. The chargrilled oysters and the crawfish etouffee. We get it - you enjoy the food in Louisiana, just like everyone else who goes there.
What I’ve taken exception to more, and what seems ridiculously outlandish (maybe because it’s the summer and college football media has to bring up some controversial topics) is the question of how long a leash Kelly is going to have at LSU. Like, he’s on the hot seat already before even coaching a game?
The man has more wins than any coach ever at Notre Dame. Kelly has more wins than Nick Saban (to be fair, he has more losses, too.) But you get the point: This is one of the most-qualified college football coaches in the country and there is debate about how long he has to turn LSU back into title contenders?
Get outta here.
Kelly came in with a serious, methodical, disciplined approach and, I’ll admit, some awful dancing skills and the Tigers have a top-10 class. In the SEC West, Alabama isn’t going anywhere and Texas A&M is vastly improved and the division as a whole is a complete dogfight every weekend but who is going to have his team more prepared and ready to go?
Kelly worked wonders at Notre Dame with athletes nowhere near what he’s going to have in Baton Rouge. He won’t admit it but Kelly did everything possible in South Bend, maxed out the skill level there and was looking for a new challenge. This is it. And to think his coaching ability or plan is somehow being questioned before he even coaches a game - or has time to implement things - is ridiculous.
The LSU football program needed a dose of seriousness and now they have it.
THE TENNESSEE TURNAROUND
I’m not here to rub Tennessee fans’ noses in the Jeremy Pruitt debacle. Everyone with a pulse knows he’s a clown who ran a proud SEC program like a circus. The alleged McDonald’s bags filled with cash. His wife reportedly involved in some shady dealings. Pruitt on tape asking why a player needed to be arrested “just because he has a warrant?”
I’m not even going to get into the Jarrett Guarantano facemask pull. At some point, the loudest guy in the room has nothing to say. You just sort of roll your eyes, grow exhausted and ignore him.
If Pruitt was just a mishire, fine. Get rid of him, pay him to go away and that’s it. But now Tennessee finds itself with the NCAA listing 18 infractions against the program during Pruitt’s reign and that’s far, far worse than his attempt at coaching in Knoxville.
The reason being: Josh Heupel is really good at his job and the Volunteers are gaining traction. In Heupel’s first year, the Vols were second in the SEC in scoring and only 0.6 points behind Alabama in that category. They were third in total yards. Recruiting is going well with a commitment from five-star QB Nico Iamaleava and many other elite players.
This is the last thing the program needed right now - something from the outside slowing down progress in an SEC that now circles like sharks when there is blood in the water.
Pruitt was a disaster. There’s no debating that. But quickly, Heupel has breathed life back into a program that hasn’t won 10 games since 2007. So much is going in the right direction but these violations become concerning.
Heupel is a serious, talented coach who has Tennessee going in the right direction. For Vols fans everywhere, the hope is that the ghost of Jeremy Pruitt and his McDonald’s bags would just go away and never come back. I’m not sure that’s how this situation will play out.