How did the BCS National Championship defenses get assembled?
-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.
The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. Just look at last night's announcement of Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins. He grew up in the shadow of Tigers Stadium but picked Alabama. And the mother of the No. 3 defensive back in the nation wasn't happy about it.
Just imagine how the BCS National Championship game would be different if Nico Johnson or Mark Barron picked LSU instead of Alabama. Or what if Bennie Logan or Barkevious Mingo picked the Crimson Tide instead of the Bayou Bengals?
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits
Here is how Nick Saban and Les Miles put together National Championship defenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:
Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Defense:
Josh Chapman, NT (2007)
From Hoover (Ala.) High School near Birmingham, Chapman entered college as a solid three-star defensive tackle prospect. He was ranked as the No. 32 nose tackle in the nation and the No. 12 player in the state by Rivals. He picked Alabama after initially committing to Auburn as well as other offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Jesse Williams, DE (2011)
Williams came a long way to get to the Capstone and the BCS National Championship game. Originally from Cavendish Road High School in Brisbane, Australia, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College in Yuma, Arizona in 2009. After two seasons as a JUCO, Williams signed with Alabama in the spring of 2011 as the No. 2-rated junior college prospect in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder obviously made a big impact in only one year on campus.
Damion Square, DE (2008)
Square posted 26 sacks in his final two seasons at Houston (Texas) Yates, landing him a three-star ranking from Rivals. He was ranked as the No. 37 defensive tackle and No. 55 player in the state of Texas by the internet scouting service. He picked Alabama over Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas A&M.
Jerrell Harris, LB (2008) AC100
Harris was a member of the inaugural AC100 back in 2008 as the No. 9-ranked linebacker in the entire country. He came to Alabama from Tide pipeline Gadsden City High School from Gadsden, Ala., after 265 tackles over his final two prep seasons. Harris took all five official visits: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee and USC. He has played 37 games in his career, but it is safe to say that after 52 total career tackles, Harris failed to live up to the recruiting hype.
Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008)
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County, Hightower has proven to be one of the top Nick Saban recruits during his time at Alabama. The battering ram of a linebacker was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally. The two-way prep star picked Bama over Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. While not a top 100-type talent, Hightower was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He led the Tide in tackles in 2011 with 81 stops.
Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
Johnson was one of the top prospects in the entire nation back in 2009. He was ranked as the No. 5 linebacker in the nation and was the No. 21 player in the nation overall. He trailed only Manti Te’o, Dorian Bell, Vontaze Burfict and Jelani Jenkins in the positional rankings. He hails from Andalusia (Ala.) and picked Alabama over Auburn and LSU.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (2008)
The Eufaula, Ala., native was the No. 7-rated defensive end in the nation but only the No. 9-rated player in the state of Alabama. He was nationally recruited as the No. 111 player in the nation regardless of position and helped Alabama to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Upshaw, who picked Alabama over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, was named the Class 5A Lineman of the Year by the ASWA.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008) AC100
The nation’s No. 1 class was buoyed by the presence of the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety. Barron was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back behind Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley – three of whom are playing in the NFL. He was the nation’s No. 3 safety after being named MVP of the 2007 Class 5A Alabama state title game. He picked Alabama over LSU and Auburn.
Robert Lester, S (2008)
The Foley (Ala.) native was ranked as the No. 23 safety in the nation by Rivals back in 2008. His two finalists were Oklahoma and Alabama. The four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Alabama and has 10 interceptions over the last two seasons.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation back in 2009. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100. The five-star U.S. Army All-American, along with fellow AC100 stud Richardson, helped bolster an Alabama class that finished No. 3 nationally. Kirkpatrick had his choice of schools and is technically the highest-rated player on Athlon’s 2011 All-America squad. He picked Bama over Florida and Texas.
DeQuan Menzie, CB (2010)
Orginally from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, Menzie landed at Alabama after playing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss. He was the No. 6-rated JUCO prospect by Scout and the No. 14-rated JUCO talent by Rivals. He selected Alabama over Ole Miss and Tennessee and beat out the highly touted DeMarcus Milliner to win a starting job this fall.
LSU Tigers Starting Defense:
Sam Montgomery, DE (2009) AC100
The star end from Greenwood (S.C.) was ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in the nation in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 43-rated player in the entire nation regardless of position. The 6-foot-4, 245 rush end made his decision on television on National Signing Day by putting on the Purple and Gold hat over Tennessee and North Carolina. He was the No. 1 player in the Palmetto State back in the '09 cycle and may be one of the top NFL defensive ends in the nation — in either the 2012 or 2013 NFL Draft.
Bennie Logan, DT (2009)
Another member of the nation's No. 1 class, Logan came to Baton Rouge from Coushatta (La.) Red River as a three-star recruit. He was ranked as the No. 33 defensive end in the nation by Rivals and the No. 65 defensive end by Scout. Miles originally tried to offer Logan a greyshirt, but finally coughed up a scholarship during his official visit. Logan immediately picked the Tigers over Michigan, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Alabama.
Michael Brockers, DT (2009)
The four-star defenive end prospect from Houston (Texas) Chavez was ranked as the No. 19 defensive end in the nation and the No. 242 player overall in the nation. His offer sheet included Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston to go with his LSU scholie.
Barkevious Mingo DE (2009)
You think Les Miles likes his 2009 defensive line class? Mingo completes the four-man '09 starting defensive line — which does not include the highest-ranked of the group, Chris Davenport, or No. 3-ranked (within the LSU class) Josh Downs. Mingo, from West Monroe (La.), was ranked as the No. 29 linebacker in the nation and the No. 196 overall prospect in the country. He entered college, after picking LSU over Alabama, UConn and Michigan, as a skinny 6-foot-5, 205-pound outside backer. He is now a 250-pound national championship defensive end.
Stefoin Francois, LB (2007)
As a safety for Reserve (La.) East St. John, Francois nearly landed at Florida State. But two days before National Signing Day, he surprisingly committed to the Bayou Bengals. The then 6-foot-1, 188-pound defensive back was ranked as the No. 5 safety in the nation and the No. 63 prospect overall. After switching to outside linebacker, he bulked up to 225 pounds and has played well two seasons in a row at his new position.
Kevin Minter, LB (2009)
A nationally rated recruit, Minter was the No. 17 linebacking prospect in the nation and the No. 148 overall recruit in the country. The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge tackling machine posted three consecutive 100+ tackle seasons to finish his prep career. He made 404 stops over that span. In first full season as the starter as a sophomore, Minter finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56 stops. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma State, South Carolina, USC, West Virginia, Virginia, NC State and Kentucky.
Ryan Baker, LB (2008)
Yet another Top 100 prospect starting for this stellar LSU defense, Baker was ranked as the No. 74 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 6 outside linebacker by Rivals. He hails from Blountstown (Fla.) and picked the Tigers over the Florida State Seminoles, despite the late push by Bobby Bowden.
Brandon Taylor, S (2008)
The Franklinton (La.) prospect was initially a cornerback coming out of high school but became a speedy, undersized safety once in Baton Rouge. He was a top 100 prospect by Rivals as the No. 9-ranked cornerback and the No. 92 overall player in the nation. He picked LSU over Kansas State and Notre Dame. The smallish (6-foot, 190-pound) safety finished No. 2 on this team in tackles in 2011 (67).
Eric Reid, S (2009) AC100
The 2009 LSU Tigers recruiting class, which one the Athlon Sports National Recruiting Championship, will eventually go down in history as one of the more productive in SEC history. Reid was the No. 10-rated defensive back in the nation and was the No. 79-rated overall prospect in the AC100. He made the single most important play in the first edition of the "Game of the Century" when he ripped the ball away from Bama tight end Michael Williams. The Geismar (La.) Dutchtown prospect picked LSU over NC State, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulane.
Tyrann Mathieu, PR, LSU (2010)
The Honey Badger was the No. 44 defensive back in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Louisiana by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 13-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals. The New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine dynamo was either firmly committed to Frank Wilson and LSU, or schools were scared off by his attitude, because his offer sheet was LSU, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulane, FIU, Miami (Ohio) and Hampton.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2008)
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of LA and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Visited no other schools officially, but his short list included Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tulane, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. Three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB. He passed for 1,009 yards and 14 TDs while rushing for 1,023 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.