By any standard, LSU’s National Signing Day was a mixed bag.
Sure, the Tigers landed five-star corner Kristian Fulton, but that was just the cherry on top of a loaded defensive-back class at a position which already was a relative strength on the depth chart.
Elsewhere, LSU lost out on key four-star linebacker Erick Fowler to Texas and saw longtime target Trayvon Mullen choose the other Tigers — Death Valley in Clemson — over Baton Rouge.
Combined with splashy days from Alabama, Florida State and Ole Miss, it was enough to knock LSU off the No. 1 perch and into the No. 3 composite ranking — as low as 6th in the Rivals rankings.
Bringing in a near-consensus top-five class is nothing to sneeze at, for sure. Indeed, most of the grunt work with this class had paid off in the weeks leading up to Wednesday. It’s just that LSU fans have been teased for nearly a year, and especially during the past month, with visions of a No. 1 class. Maybe the Tigers would even best Bama in recruiting, since they haven’t done it on the field since 2011. That was the hope this class offered.
It’s not as though the quality of players LSU brought in this year is suddenly diminished. From defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence to defensive end Rahssan Thornton to much-needed quarterback commit Lindsey Scott, Jr., the talent haul is right in line with LSU’s elite status. LSU still landed anywhere between seven and nine of Louisiana’s 10 best players, a remarkable achievement in a talent-rich state. However, when you’ve been told to expect something legendary — and LSU’s first consensus No. 1 class ever would qualify — losing on two key targets and seeing your rival leapfrog you again is anticlimactic.
Don’t let this fool you, though: Expectations will be high as ever in Baton Rouge next fall, and with good reason. LSU still signed a whopping 19 ESPN 300 recruits, tying the single-season record. With whom, you ask? Alabama’s 2014 and 2015 classes. We all know the kind of expectations those classes carry in Tuscaloosa.
It will be the same in Baton Rouge, only with far more urgency.
LSU signed the No. 2 class in 2014, and those players are now rising sophomores and juniors, many of them returning starters from a team that looked like a national championship threat in 2015 and burned out in November. That led to the extended Les Miles saga, before he miraculously saved another year thanks to internal politics and an emotionally-charged 19-7 win over Texas A&M.
There may have been a groundswell of support for The Mad Hatter, but fans won’t exercise the same patience or understanding in 2016. LSU returns 18 starters, losing only one junior to the NFL Draft for the first time since 2009. For once in recent memory, the Tigers will join these top-notch recruiting classes with a bevy of experience across the roster.
Moreover, LSU actually did a great job even holding onto the class it had. Recruiter coordinator and talent guru Frank Wilson took the UT-San Antonio head coaching job three weeks ago, while defensive coordinator and noted strong recruiter Kevin Steele (whom LSU fans wanted to leave from an on-field perspective) left for the same gig at Auburn. This represented a very real threat to the class, so Ed Orgeron and Miles deserve credit merely for keeping this haul in the upper tier.
However, promising recruiting classes and fruitful National Signing Days have been facts of life at LSU over the last decade. The same goes for unfulfilling seasons four years running now, an entire player’s career worth of underachieving by almost any measure.
LSU’s 2016 recruiting class won’t create unfair or outsized expectations, let’s make that clear. A No. 1 class may have done just that. Yet, this class is still loaded enough that Miles will have to answer if another season of incoming talent doesn’t translate to 11+ wins or a win over Alabama.
There’s a lot of apprehension among LSU fans (really, there has been since January 2012), and any negative NSD news was going to stoke that.
Nevertheless, this class remains a renewed beacon of hope for a program finally ready to settle down and reclaim championship form after a tumultuous six months on top of an entire Olympic cycle twisting in the SEC West winds.