ATLANTA — If there was any tension Sunday on the eve of their team’s Chick-fil-A Bowl showdown, LSU’s Les Miles and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney didn’t show it.
Both men spent more of the final pre-bowl news conference praising each other and each other’s programs than they did talking about the actual game.
“He’s got a great family,” Swinney said, “and I’m recruiting his sons.”
“I met his wife and his family, and they can hang out with us now,” Miles said. Then he added, “I’m not ready to go vacationing yet.”
Maybe after Monday’s game.
First, of course, is recruiting. One of the top targets for both schools will be the nation’s consensus No. 1 prospect, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) from nearby Loganville, Ga., just west of Atlanta.
Nkemdiche initially committed to Clemson but decommitted in November.
LSU and Ole Miss are now considered two of his favorites along with Alabama and Georgia, though Clemson remains in the mix.
Despite what could be a potentially bitter battle, Swinney said he respects the way Miles and LSU recruit.
“He does it right. His staff does it right,” Swinney said. “I can’t say that about everybody in this business.”
Said Miles: “I’ve only ever seen Dabo Swinney’s operations to be done right and correctly and with the best interests of the player in mind.”
A reporter covering LSU asked Swinney about his route to becoming Clemson’s head coach being similar to that of new Southern coach Dawson Odums. Both were first named interim coach, then got the full-time job.
Swinney knows Odums well, the lattter having worked Clemson’s football camp for years.
“He’s a great man, great coach,” Swinney said. “The thing I know about him is a ton of energy, a ton of intensity and a ton of integrity. I don’t have any doubt he’ll put everything he has into getting that program right.”
Odums went 4-5 as the interim after taking over when Stump Mitchell was fired in September. Odums was named Southern’s head coach Dec. 14.
Tempe (Ariz.) Marcos de Niza defensive back Priest Willis (6-2, 199) may not be as close to naming his four finalists as previously thought, but an article in the Arizona Republic speculated that LSU may be his favorite.
The Dec. 29 article said “LSU appears to be the front- runner” for Willis’ commitment but that he may not be ready to announce his four finalists during Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game (4 p.m., ESPN), as his stepfather recently said.
Willis, who is ranked as high as No. 23 nationally by Scout, said he enjoyed his official visit to LSU on Dec. 14-16.
“I like the way they recruit,” Willis told the newspaper. “I really like the coaches.”
Willis is still considering Arizona State, Notre Dame, Florida State, UCLA, Nebraska, Virginia and possibly Southern Cal.
Clemson’s Dan Radakovich was Georgia Tech’s athletic director for less than two years when the Yellow Jackets played LSU in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Now Radakovich has only been on the job at his new school leading up to the bowl game with LSU, where he served as senior associate athletic director from 2001-06.
“Seeing LSU people like Herb (Vincent), Joe (Alleva) and Les, it’s been great to visit with them,” Radakovich said. “It’s wonderful playing teams and schools you have great respect for.”
Players from both teams will leave the Chick-fil-A Bowl with an armful of gifts, including a $300 gift card, a Chick-fil-A gift card, a watch, a bowl-logoed football and a logoed bag.
When describing LSU’s offensive style this past week, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said LSU likes to “pound you into oblivion” with its ground game.
“I take that as a compliment,” Miles said. “Just tell me he’s not a big guy.”
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