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September 27, 2013

Beyond the Field: Georgia vs. LSU

MORE: Mind of Mike: Moses' pledge illustrates new trend

The famed hedges enclosing the field at Sanford Stadium do not surround the borders of Georgia.

The Peach State is one of the most talent-rich in the country and many programs have been able to pluck prospects out from under the nose of Mark Richt and his coaching staff. Likewise, Les Miles has seen more players that would typically be considered LSU-locks leave his state in recent years.

Saturday's contest between No. 6 LSU and No. 9 Georgia will likely propel one of the two into the top five nationally but, more importantly, the result could send a strong message to in-state recruits that staying home is the best choice.

Richt said, at its core, recruiting can be a numbers game that often doesn't allow him to take everyone he would want.

"If there's a really good player in the state of Louisiana, it seems like it's just a done deal that the guy is going to LSU," he said. "We have a situation where we just have so many guys. We might have 150 guys that are Division I football players (in Georgia) but we just can't take them all, so you know a certain amount of your really good players are going to end up at another school. There's just not enough room, and there's fierce competition for it.

"(Miles) recruits well, he motivates well, and it seems like he's a guy that the players really respond to well. I think just to be a head coach for 13 years and to be able to last as long as he has at his school and me at my school in this league, you've certainly had enough success to keep it going."

Richt has a losing record against Miles, going 3-4 in seven previous games. The two share a similar record in head-to-head recruiting battles.

The current rosters only feature four players that were heavily recruited by either team and none of them were considered true competitions.

LSU safety Craig Loston was a five-star prospect from Aldine (Texas) Eisenhower in the class of 2009. He originally committed to Texas A&M then flipped to Clemson before a final switch to LSU while Georgia was in the mix through the entire process.

ELSEWHERE AROUND THE COUNTRY
The slate of games for the fifth weekend of college football is a dramatic improvement from top to bottom over the first four. There are four contests between top 25 teams, and conference play is in full swing around the country. One of the highest-profile games of the weekend is between Ole Miss and Alabama, and its outcome could impact recruiting races in the Southeast. A non-conference clash between Oklahoma and Notre Dame edges Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, Virginia vs. Pittsburgh, Texas A&M vs. Arkansas, and SMU vs. TCU for other in-focus game that could shape recruiting.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell weighs in on both games and says that he thinks Ole Miss could be the program that stands to gain the most with a good performance.

"This is old guard vs. upstart and, it should be interesting to see how this game plays out," he said. "Ole Miss is starting to get kids that everyone wants and they are battling everyone -- including Alabama -- for a lot of prospects.

"Alabama has the national titles and the recruiting titles, but Ole Miss is being a thorn in the side of programs coast to coast. I think that Ole Miss is really making a push to get in with more elite level players, and if they can beat -- or at least show well against Alabama -- it would mark an arrival for them. It would really announce to major prospects that the staff is for real; the program is for real, and that it is a desirable place to go play."



Oklahoma and Notre Dame do not square off for recruits as often as other regional programs taking to the field this weekend, but that does not make this game any less important on the national landscape.

Oklahoma has an opportunity to revive its brand with the attention being paid to this game, and when combined with the downturn that is happening at Texas, it may be an open window for the Sooners to get back deep into that state. Notre Dame has not looked sharp during its start to the season and would be well-served to put a shine back on the golden dome.

Farrell said that he doesn't see this as a must-win for either team, but it does present major opportunities for each.

"Notre Dame goes into everywhere, so this is a chance for them to showcase to Oklahoma and Texas kids. Oklahoma has been getting into the Midwest a little bit, too, and so if it becomes a real choice for Ohio prospects this would be big because those kids will be seeing this game. I think both teams need to win but for different reasons.

"Oklahoma needs a big win, it needs a boost in a bad way, while Notre Dame could use a big game to show these wins the last two years have not been a fluke."

Tigers wide receiver Kadron Boone, who initially committed to Texas Tech as a member of the 2010 class, went on official visits to both Athens and Baton Rouge as a Rivals250 member out of Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic.

Buford (Ga.) High offensive guard Vadal Alexander also ended up in Baton Rouge. He didn't take an official visit to Georgia but had been on the university's campus and the program recruited him until Signing Day. But the Dawgs ultimately lost out on the No. 234 prospect in the class of 2012.

Georgia was able to keep Marietta (Ga.) Walton lineman Brandon Kublanow from heading to the Bayou State in the class of 2013. The No. 155 player in the Rivals250 presented by Under Armour had offers from both programs and said at the time that the interest from LSU was a game-changer in his recruitment. He committed to Georgia two weeks later and eventually signed.

"Both programs go after elite prospects in the southeast and so they will probably overlap on the offer list of every kid on both rosters," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. But they don't get into many real battles Geographically, they are close and that would make people think they are natural rivals; but LSU can stay home or go to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia stays home or goes to South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida.

"LSU has to defend Louisiana and Georgia has to defend Georgia. The talent in Louisiana has increased in the last five years and more schools are going in there. Georgia is probably the most over-recruited state in the country which is making it harder than ever for Richt to defend it."

The two states have been densely stocked with FBS talent in recent years, and the class of 2013 placed both Georgia and Louisiana in the top five among per participant signees.

Georgia's class has 16 commitments and is ranked No. 6 in the country but five of the top 10 ranked players in the Peach State have already given verbal commitments to other programs.

Richt said that games like this are important for building onto the class.

"We have a pretty good-sized group on official visits, and then there will be a huge amount of unofficial visits," he said. "We also know that when we are one of the main focal points of the day, there's a little bit more added to it. It's why you come to Georgia -- for games like this."

The Bulldogs need a statement game to help sway Norcross (Ga.) High five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter to join this class. A win would also help with Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County linebacker Raekwon McMillan as the five-star prospect will be officially visiting for the game.

McMillian will be joined on campus by Rivals100 receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp and four-star defensive back, Rivals250 member Wesley Green of Lithonia (Ga.) Martin Luther King.

LSU is not far behind in the national rankings at No. 19 with 14 verbal pledges.

Miles has recently lost out on a pair of best friends to Alabama -- West Monroe (La.) High five-star lineman Cameron Robinson and four-star wide receiver Cameron Sims from Monroe (La.) Ouachita Parish.

There is real concern that two other five-star players in Louisiana could escape. New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette has been to Tuscaloosa multiple times with Robinson and Sims, and River Ridge (La.) John Curtis receiver Malachi Dupre has a top four that includes Alabama, Florida State and UCLA.

Miles said that part of the beauty of playing at his school is in the opportunities like this to be challenged.

"You choose to come to LSU to look forward to playing in a game between the hedges, nationally ranked," Miles said. "Our guys are looking forward to it. Know it's going to be a great environment. Been there before. We'll do our part to prepare to give us all a great game."

Former four-star quarterback Aaron Murray said that being in the spotlight again is a pleasant challenge and one that he looks forward to.

He added that starting the season with spotlight games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU helps keep the team sharp.

"It's got to be some type of record to start off with three top 10 teams in the first four games, but it's been fun to play this type of game, in these atmospheres, against these teams," he said. "Everyone's like 'that must stink,' but I think it's fun. I think everyone on this team thinks it's fun. It's fun preparing for these big types of games, it's fun playing in them, and it adds a lot more excitement to the week.

"I definitely think as a whole team we have grown over these past three weeks."

Depending on the outcome, one program's commitment list could also grow along with its team.

Dallas Jackson is the national columnist for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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