Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: Biggest recruiting battles for uncommitted talent

Georgia, Auburn and Alabama are all trying to sign linebacker Reuben Foster. (US Presswire)

We're just a week from National Signing Day and, as usual, there is plenty of drama with schools fighting for recruits. This week's Top 10 list: the biggest battles for top uncommitted recruits. NOTE: These are the top-ranked recruits from the 247 Top 100, and the list does not include players who are "committed" but still appear to be up for grabs, such as the nation's No. 2 recruit, DE Chris Jones, who has been committed to Mississippi State for months but just took a visit to Ole Miss last weekend.

1. Robert Nkemdiche, DL -- Ole Miss vs. Bama vs. LSU vs. Florida: The nation's consensus top recruit is a 278-pounder who looks -- and moves -- like he's 240, says one college coach. Another coach predicts that despite Nkemdiche being listed as a defensive end, he'll likely end up inside as a 3-technique. "Only way he ends up as a defensive end is in a 3-4," says the coach. "But he should be a great player. There is so much to like about him. His hands are so big and thick, you'd think he must've been stung by a bunch of bees."

The Georgia product, who for a while was committed to Clemson, took his official visit to Oxford, Miss., last week with his father, and the Rebels have emerged as the team to beat. As crazy as it might seem, the Rebels have been a factor for Nkemdiche ever since his older brother Denzel (an unheralded recruit back then) committed to play for Ole Miss and then-coach Houston Nutt. Denzel Nkemdiche, an undersized linebacker, proved to be a terrific player, leading the Rebels in tackles as a redshirt freshman. On top of that, Robert Nkemdiche's high school teammate, DB David Kamara, has named Ole Miss his leader.

More impressive for the Rebels is the talent already committed to Ole Miss, and that too could be a factor. One rival coach in the SEC raves about Laquon Treadwell, a five-star WR from Crete, Ill., whom the coach says has a wider gap between he and all other prep wideouts than the gap between Nkemdiche and other D-linemen.

2. Laremy Tunsil, OT -- Georgia vs. Alabama vs. Ole Miss vs. FSU: The Lake City, Fla., product listed by many at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds is actually 6-6, 330. Two college coaches I spoke to this week said Tunsil isn't just the best offensive tackle prospect in the Class of 2013, he's the best one to come along in a few years. Tunsil, ranked by 247 as the nation's No. 3 overall recruit, grew up a Gators fan, but don't look for him to end up playing in Gainesville. JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director for 247Sports, predicts Tunsil ends up at Georgia. "His relationship with Bulldogs offensive line coach Will Friend will be the difference in the end," Shurburtt said. "You can't rule Bama out, but the Bulldogs should land this one."

3. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT -- Alabama vs. USC vs. UCLA vs. ND vs. Washington: There was a lot of debate among the college coaches I spoke with this week about whether the 6-2, 310-pounder from California was the nation's top DT. All four coaches I talked to preferred other D-linemen but praised Vanderdoes' toughness. Vanderdoes was once committed to USC, but from what I'm hearing this one could go in any direction. "Notre Dame made a strong push and Alabama is in it to a certain extent, but proximity to home will likely land him back at USC," Shurburtt said.

4. Montravius Adams, DT -- Georgia vs. Clemson vs. Auburn vs. Alabama vs. Florida: Another gifted D-lineman from Georgia. The film I've seen of Adams is freaky impressive. It is jaw-dropping watching the 320-pounder's burst off the ball, blowing into the backfield play after play. "This kid could be a beast," said one coach of the recruit ranked No. 10 overall. "If he's not lazy, he'll be awesome." While Adams' list is loaded with SEC teams, don't be shocked if he ends up in the ACC.

"This is one where you have to go off the stronger, longer theory," Shurburtt said. "Clemson has been at or near the top for most of the process while others have risen and fallen. He can contend for a starting job right away and the Tigers' 4-3 fits him."

5. Matthew Thomas, OLB -- Miami vs. FSU vs. Alabama vs. USC vs. Georgia: The latest in a rich pipeline of talent to come out of Miami's Booker T. Washington High School, Thomas is ranked as the country's No. 14 overall prospect. Many figured Thomas would likely end up as a Seminole, but word is Miami has made up a lot of ground, and it certainly didn't hurt the Canes' chances when James Coley, the coach recruiting the linebacker for the Noles, left FSU to become the Canes offensive coordinator.

6. Reuben Foster, ILB -- Georgia vs. Auburn vs. Alabama: Every year there's a few prospects whose recruitment sounds like such a farce you figure it has to be the work of The Onion. Reuben Foster is that guy this year. He's the recruit who gained fame for getting an Auburn tattoo, only to decommit in the wake of staff uncertainty with the Tigers -- although now it sounds like he still might end up there. Earlier this week came more Foster news: The nation's top inside linebacker prospect will be taking an official visit this weekend to ... San Diego State, which many dismiss as just Foster getting away for awhile to clear his head and enjoy the process.

"It's definitely a two-team race between UGA and Auburn," Shurburtt said. "Given his proximity to Auburn's campus, the fact he was committed there and family considerations, the Tigers will get him back in the fold the Monday before signing day."

7. Alex Collins, RB -- Miami vs. Arkansas vs. Florida vs. FSU vs. Wisconsin: The speedy back from Broward County is the country's top-ranked running back and would be a huge pickup for anyone, but especially for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema. This is another top recruit who at one point seemed likely headed to FSU, but word is the Noles' chances have been hurt by more of the coaching turnover (in this case, when RB coach Eddie Gran left Tallahassee to become the OC at Cincinnati).

"Collins, by a hair, will head to Fayetteville," Shurburtt predicted.

8. Tony Conner, S -- Ole Miss vs. Alabama: South Panola High School in Batesville, Miss., cranks out powerhouse teams and blue-chippers as well as any program in the Deep South. The 6-1, 205-pound Conner, who coaches say, is a long, rangy and very physical DB, comes from a program that has produced, among others, Deshea Townsend, the Jerry brothers, Derek Pegues and Jamarca Sanford. Many of these kids ended up at Ole Miss, and the vibe around Hugh Freeze's program is strong right now. Then again, Bama has won three of the last four BCS titles. That's really strong. "Ole Miss rarely loses a prospect it wants out of South Panola, and given the Rebels momentum, I would be surprised if they didn't land Conner," Shurburtt said. "Alabama is making it interesting, but in the end he signs with Ole Miss."

9. Vonn Bell, S -- Tennessee vs. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Bell isn't as big or as physical as Conner, but he's still very high on coaches' radars, and 247 ranks him right behind Conner among safeties and No. 29 overall. Bell would be a big pickup for the Vols and Butch Jones, who don't have a prospect committed ranked in the Top 100. "The Chattanooga, Tenn.-area prospect has been a top target of both the old and new Vols staffs for the entire recruiting cycle," Shurburtt said. "Alabama and Ohio State, the other two challengers, rose to the top following the dismissal of former coach Derek Dooley, but a great official visit and an emerging relationship with new Tennessee coach Butch Jones and staff, combined with some other factors, have Tennessee positioned to land the big-time defensive back target."

10. MacKensie Alexander, CB -- Auburn vs. Texas A&M vs. Miss. St. vs. Clemson vs. Rutgers: College coaches I spoke to last spring thought the 5-10, 180-pound Alexander, not Vernon Hargreaves III, was the nation's best CB prospect. Scouts loved Alexander's combination of quickness, toughness and confidence. "This kid loves football, wants to hit you and has so much confidence," said one coach this week who added that Hargreaves really stepped up this season and showed he could be very physical too. Last weekend Alexander took an official visit to Auburn, which surprised some observers who thought he might go see Rutgers or USF.

"He could end up anywhere," Shurburtt said, "but his visit to Auburn, his relationship with Tigers assistant Charlie Harbison (who was at Clemson) and the fact AU is now taking his brother Mackenro tells me Auburn will pull the surprise (or is it?) here."

 
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