-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. How would the BCS National Championship game be different if Trent Richardson had picked LSU over Alabama and Rueben Randle and Will Blackwell had chosen the Crimson Tide over the Bayou Bengals?
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits
Here is how Les Miles and Nick Saban put together National Championship offenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:
Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Offense:
A.J. McCarron, QB (2009) AC100
Alabama landed one of the nation’s top signal-callers when it inked McCarron back in 2009, and it showed in his SEC leading 66.7% completion rate in his first year under center. The lanky passer was the No. 8-rated QB prospect in the nation and was the No. 97 overall player in the '09 Athlon Consensus 100. Bad chest tattoo aside, Bama landed a good one when it beat out Miami, Ole Miss and Oklahoma for the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul’s passer.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was a known commodity well before he was toting the rock for the Crimson Tide. Richardson was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida. He ranked behind only D.J. Fluker and Dre Kirkpatrick in Alabama’s No. 3-rated recruiting class. He was Florida’s Class 5A Mr. Football after 2,090 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. T-Rich had his pick of any school in the nation and made a splash with his Houndstooth announcement of Alabama over Florida, Florida State and LSU. Imagine what this season would have looked like had landed in Baton Rouge?
Barrett Jones, OT (2008)
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Chance Warmack, OG (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com.
Williams Vlachos, OC (2007)
One of the elder statesmen of the Bama offensive line hails from Birmingham (Ala.) Mountain Brook. Florida State, Georgia Tech and West Virginia were “in the running” for the stud center but likely had little shot at landing the local talent. Vlachos was ranked as the No. 9 center prospect in the nation.
Alfred McCullough, OG (2007)
Another fifth-year player, McCullough was actually evaluated as a defensive tackle coming out of high school. Rivals.com listed him as the No. 24 DT in the nation while Scout listed the Athens (Ala.) product as the No. 46 defensive tackle. He has turned out to be a pretty good offensive lineman in his time at the Capstone.
D.J. Fluker, OT (2009) AC100
This monster of a recruit actually moved from Biloxi, Miss., to Foley, Ala., for his final season of prep play. And everybody wanted him. He was the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was ranked No. 19 overall in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 10-rated player to enter the SEC and was second only to Dre Kirkpatrick in the Bama recruiting rankings. Fluker, who was committed to Alabama for over a year, was listed as big as 6-foot-7 as a recruit and upwards of 350 pounds by Rivals.com (he was listed officially at a modest 6-foot-5, 340 as an incoming freshman).
Michael Williams, TE (2008)
Williams was an all-state talent and the 2A Lineman of the Year from Reform (Ala.) Pickens County. Williams was a highly touted prospect who picked Alabama over Clemson and Georgia Tech — he just wasn’t a tight end. Williams was evaluated as the No. 17 defensive end in the nation by Scout and the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals after 24 sacks over his final two prep seasons. His blocking and pass-catching skills proved to be too much, however, as he will start at tight end in the national championship game.
Brad Smelley, TE (2008)
Nick Saban did a good job of creating tight ends in the 2008 class. Much like Williams, Smelley was not considered a tight end by the internet scouts. Scout listed the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) American Christian prospect as a quarterback and as the No. 194-rated wide receiver. Rivals listed the local talent as the No. 30-rated pro-style quarterback in the country. All Smelley did in 2011 was lead the No. 2 Crimson Tide in touchdown receptions and finished second in receptions.
Marquis Maze, WR (2007)
The senior wide receiver was a middle-of-the-pack three-star prospect who had a quality offer sheet that included Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Auburn and Bama. More interestingly, however, was his “athlete” status. Maze was the No. 52-rated “athlete” in the nation back in 2007. The Birmingham (Ala.) Tarrant star rushed for 1,300 yards as a senior in only six games as well as being the dynamic receiver and return man Bama fans know and love today.
Darius Hanks, WR (2007)
Hailing from Norcross (Ga.), Hanks, like Maze, was a three-star middle-of-the-pack prospect. The difference, however, was the offer sheet for Hanks — which consisted of Kent State, Ohio, UAB, Houston, East Carolina and Alabama. It made for an easy choice.
LSU Tigers Starting Offense:
Jordan Jefferson, QB (2008)
The LSU quarterback stepped onto campus with a sterling prep resume. He was first-team All-State and was voted Gatorade Player of the Year in the Pelican State after 2,846 yards, 24 TD and only three interceptions as a senior at Destrehan (La.) High School. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound prospect was the No. 8-rated pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals and the No. 18-rated quarterback by Scout nationally. The four-star signal-caller was an LSU Tiger all the way.
Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, RB (2010/2009/2011) AC100
Ware just missed landing in the AC100 back in 2010. He was the No. 103-rated player in the nation, the No. 13-rated running back in the nation and the No. 5-ranked player in the state of Ohio. The Cincinnati-Princeton tailback picked LSU over Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio State and others. Ford helped Les Miles land the nation’s No. 1 class in 2009 and was the No. 37-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 6-rated running back in the nation and was the No. 3-rated player in the Pelican State. The Leesville product picked LSU over Florida and Florida State. Hilliard, who hails from Patterson, La., was a major part of arguably the most talent Pelican State senior class in history. The nephew of former NFL back Dalton Hilliard, Kenny was ranked as the No. 89 prospect in the nation in the 2011 AC100 and the No. 14-rated running back nationally. He rushed for 4,316 yards and 54 touchdowns over his final two prep seasons. Not too many football teams boast one AC100 tailback, much less three.
James Stampley, FB (2007)
Hailing from Baker (La.), Stampley has taken one of the more interesting routes to the 2011 BCS National title game. The starting battering ram and running game spearhead didn’t play football his first two years at LSU. As a center in high school, Stampley walked on at LSU and finally saw his first playing time in 2009. He played in every game as a junior in 2010 and scored his first career touchdown this fall against Ole Miss. As one of the hardest hitters in all of college football, Stampley has broken 25 of his own facemasks in 2011 according to the school.
Chris Faulk, OT (2009)
The Slidell (La.) Northshore prospect picked LSU over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Louisiana Tech and Tulane. Faulk was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the nation and was the No. 20 offensive line prospect nationally. Faulk and the rest of the 2009 LSU class claimed the Athlon Sports Recruiting National Championship.
Will Blackwell, OG (2007)
This burly blocker was scouted as a defensive player coming out of high school — and a good one at that. Blackwell was ranked as a four-star defensive tackle by Rivals and was the No. 22 defensive end by Scout. He posted 80 tackles and helped lead West Monroe (La.) to a 5A State Championship before picking LSU over finalists Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame.
P.J. Lonergan, OC (2008)
It was going to be LSU all the way for this three-star New Orleans (La.) Rummel product. Lonergan committed very early to the Tigers and stuck with it for the better part of a year as he watched Miles topple Ohio State in the 2007 National title game. He was ranked as the No. 60 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 32 player in the Pelican State.
T-Bob Hebert, OG (2007)
Georgia, Florida and LSU were the finalists for the nation’s No. 2 center back in 2007. The four-star blocker from Norcross (Ga.) Atlanta Christian was the No. 12 player in the Peach State.
Alex Hurst, OT (2008)
This monster 6-foot-6, 340 bookend tackle was a three-star recruit when he came out of Arlington (Tenn.). The 59th-rated offensive tackle in the nation and 12th-rated player in the state of Tennessee had offers from Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU.
Russell Shepard, WR (Z) (2009) AC100
Shepard was a known commodity coming out of Houston (Texas) Cypress Ridge. And the affable, confident, well-spoken youngster would tell you about it. Having interviewed and filmed Shepard during spring practice of his senior year, I can tell you he knew exactly what he was doing at all times. It made him the biggest hitter on defense and the star quarterback on offense. He rolled up 1,946 yards rushing and 28 TDs to with 1,843 yards passing and 20 TDs in his final prep season. He was ranked as the No. 2 player in the nation and trailed only Matt Barkley in the 2009 AC100. Although, he was listed as a quarterback coming out of high school — and got some looks under center at LSU — his athletic ability pushed him to wideout.
Rueben Randle, WR (X) (2009) AC100
The only Bayou Bengal ranked ahead of Randle in the 2009 LSU haul that landed Miles the recruiting national championship was Shepard. Randle was listed as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, and although it took some time to develop his skills, he has proven the lofty ranking was likely deserved. The Bastrop (La.) product was ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the nation and picked LSU over Alabama and Oklahoma. He is just another name in a long list of starters in the BCS championship game who choose between Bama and LSU.
Deangelo Peterson, TE (Y) (2008)
This tremendously gifted prep athlete didn’t have to travel far to get to campus. The Baton Rouge (La.) Desire Street Academy prospect was a four-star recruit who ranked as the No. 21 “athlete” in the nation by Rivals. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma, West Virginia and Tennessee. He was listed at 195 pounds coming out of high school, but has grown into the 6-foot-4, 235 pound tight end who will be starting in the national championship game.