In mid-February, five-star defensive tackle Walter Nolen released a top 10 of LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Florida, Oregon, Ohio State, Tennessee, Auburn and USC.
A few weeks later and there are some significant changes for the Cordova (Tenn.) St. Benedict standout as Nolen as trimmed his list to eight and made some important moves.
LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Ohio State and USC made the cut, effectively eliminating Clemson, Auburn and Tennessee and adding Georgia, a program that has moved up significantly after more serious interest.
Here is a look at which programs are the real contenders in Nolen’s recruitment and which ones are the pretenders.
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LSU is going to battle for Nolen’s commitment until the end and the Tigers could very well end up getting it. Ed Orgeron has taken on this recruitment and there were some whispers that the five-star defensive tackle was considering a commitment in the fall but Nolen held off and is still weighing his options. Nolen and Maason Smith aren’t close friends but there is a connection there and that could help down the stretch.
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Alabama is right there as well and Nick Saban usually finds a way to get what he wants especially late in the recruiting cycle. The Crimson Tide have so much to offer in terms of development and Nolen knows it plus he has an outstanding relationship with position coach Freddie Roach. When it comes down to it, Alabama is never out of it for a prospect it really wants and it won’t be for Nolen, either.
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After a slow start to Nolen’s recruitment, Georgia is picking up major steam. There are some who believe the five-star ends up somewhere in the SEC and the rumor is some programs outside that conference believe he ends up in the South as well. Only time will tell but Kirby Smart and his staff have stepped it up recently and are clearly some of the best recruiters in the country.
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Then there are two Big Ten programs to watch. Nolen’s grandparents live in Detroit, he’s building a strong bond with new defensive assistant Mo Linguist and others and playing in the Big House could be a big draw. If Nolen finalizes an official visit to Ann Arbor then Michigan could move even higher.
Ohio State is also right there as well being the top team in the conference and position coach Larry Johnson has a phenomenal reputation in developing players across the defensive line. That could be very attractive to Nolen even if there is some wariness if the five-star is going to leave SEC country.
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Florida is the one SEC program that does not seem to have as much buzz as some others although the Gators will not be counted out especially since they made basically the second cut for Nolen in the last few weeks. Position coach David Turner has some recruiting wins as do others on the Florida staff so the Gators could be a surprise player here but not as much as others.
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The Pac-12 programs feel like long shots. USC position coach Vic So’oto has engineered some major recruiting victories and ingratiated himself with almost all the elite defensive linemen in the Southeast but the Trojans are probably on the outside looking in even with a big season coming up.
Oregon has done a phenomenal job recruiting all across the country and Mario Cristobal and his staff deserve a lot of credit but it would be a major surprise if Nolen ends up in Eugene especially with so many rumors he stays somewhere in the Southeast.
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