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Florida's rivals recruited well, too

While Florida fans have had a case of the warm fuzzies over their stellar football recruiting class, they need to take this into consideration:

The rest of the Southeastern Conference didn't do too badly, either.

At least two experts say the SEC had the best crop of football recruits in the nation. Along with UF's haul, strong grades were also given to Louisiana State, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

"If you're looking at the top 25 recruiting classes, no other conference is really close," said Allen Wallace of SuperPrep magazine in California. "But that's something you expect with that conference. Ranking the schools in the Southeast is the hardest job for me because they all do so well."

Max Emfinger, a recruiting guru from Houston, has LSU with the No. 1 class in the nation. The Tigers signed four running backs who were considered among the the best in their respective states, including Robert Davis of Homewood, Ala.

LSU coach Curley Hallman also picked up tight end David LeFleur, a USA Today first-team All-American, and two top wide receivers.

"They've got 13 franchise-type, difference-makers. Nobody else is even close," said Emfinger. "The shocking thing is they had this recruiting class after having so many problems last year. There was a lot of negative talk about LSU among recruits last year."

The downside for LSU is a number of top recruits have not qualified academically and may have to sit out a season or go to a junior college.

"Looking from position to position you see so many great kids at LSU," said Wallace. "But they're in such a state of limbo. They could be crossing off an awful lot of kids."

Emfinger has eight SEC schools (in order, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi State) among his top 20 in the nation. Wallace is a little more prudent, listing six (in order, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina) in his top 25.

Quote of the week: The day before Georgia went to Baton Rouge to play LSU, Bulldogs basketball coach Hugh Durham was asked how his freshman center Charles Claxton would perform against Shaquille O'Neal.

"You mean the mismatch?" said Durham.

Revised schedule: Since Auburn is on NCAA probation and is ineligible for the conference basketball championship, there will be one extra bye in the first round of the SEC tournament.

The third-place team from either the Eastern or Western divisions that has the better SEC record will get the bye. The other third-place team will face the sixth-place team in the Eastern Division.

Florida is third in the Eastern but is two games behind third-place Alabama in the Western.

_ JOHN ROMANO

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