Defensive end Byron Cowart continues to navigate his way through a nationwide recruitment, with several marquee programs rising to the forefront. The 5-star prospect told Rivals.com reporter Blake Alderman (subscription required) (h/t AL.com) that he currently has a list of his top four choices.
Cowart identified Florida, Alabama, Oregon and USC as the teams to beat at this stage of the process.
The 6'4", 250-pound Armwood High School (Seffner, Fla.) star holds dozens of offers. College coaches began reaching out early in his high school career and Cowart quickly racked up a stack of scholarship opportunities. His expansive list of options includes Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and Notre Dame.
Cowart recorded 72 tackles and 13 sacks during his junior campaign, continuing to show signs of potential stardom. He is rated the nation's No. 3 strong-side defensive end and Florida's seventh-best 2015 prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings.
We examine his list of favorites as constructed today. Expect Cowart to have teams clamoring when it's time to coordinate official visits.
Nick Saban aims to add yet another dominant defender to his Crimson Tide defense. The unit continues to compile talent courtesy of four straight No. 1 recruiting classes.
A steady flow of 5-star recruits creates plenty of game plan flexibility for Saban's staff, but it also results in logjams across the depth chart.
Players must fight their way onto the field through a crowded crop of top-tier talents. It's an arduous task for an underclassman who would could instead start early on another campus.
However, Cowart doesn't seem phased by that aspect of the Alabama experience. He visited Tuscaloosa for a junior day earlier this month and came away impressed by the program.
"People tell me that Alabama is too big and that I'll never play if I go there, but only you know what you are capable of based on what you see," Cowart told 247Sports reporter Charles Power (subscription required). "You can't tell me I can't play at Alabama, because I know what I saw. They compete and they work hard. That's what Alabama is about and that's what I'm about."
Alabama already holds a commitment from 5-star defensive end Mekhi Brown (Columbus, Ga.) and 4-star edge rusher Jonathan Ledbetter (Tucker, Ga.). If Cowart joins this class, it's another case of the rich getting richer in Crimson Tide country.
The Gators are viewed as a favorite to land Cowart, one of the team's top in-state targets. Florida has received 90 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.
Will Muschamp and company hosted Cowart last week for an unofficial visit, and he has spent substantial time in Gainesville at this point. The Gators are attempting to pair him with fellow 5-star Florida defensive end CeCe Jefferson.
"They want me and CeCe bad," Cowart explained to Rivals. "They didn't sign a Buck linebacker and an end last year so the opportunity for both of us is there. They want me at Buck and CeCe at defensive end."
It's not a surprise to see teams tag Cowart as a compelling linebacker prospect. His athleticism and speed are routinely on display in pursuit at the second level.
Florida has endured offensive struggles in recent years, but the defensive attack remains stout.
The Gators are still devoid of a 4-star commit in this class so landing Cowart would be a major coup.
Proximity isn't a strong selling point for the Ducks, but the program is a mainstay among contenders for Cowart's signature. Last month, he told 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins that Oregon is Florida's biggest challenge.
It's important to remember that he's visited Alabama since making that comment, but the coaching staff should feel good about their current status with Cowart. His relationship with the Ducks has early roots.
During the 2013 season, he told Hopkins the Ducks caught his eye a long time ago.
"Oregon has always been up there for me on my list of schools," Cowart said.
The team faces a serious challenge. Oregon would have to reach into the SEC territory and bring him all the way out to Eugene.
Cowart should consider Oregon as a destination where he can make an immediate impact on defense. The Ducks have more pressing needs for help along the defensive front than his primary SEC options and that may pave the way to substantial snaps as a freshman.
The Trojans have rebounded tremendously from Lane Kiffin's 2013 flameout. Steve Sarkisian hit the recruiting trail with intent as soon as he accepted the position and emerged as a definitive winner on signing day.
The longtime Pac-12 power now aims to reclaim its spot atop the conference with consistent recruiting success as the effects of Pete Carroll-era sanctions fade into the rearview mirror.
USC extended an offer to Cowart in December. The Trojans have continued to gain traction with the him since then.
Sarkisian sent a strong message by securing a commitment from 5-star 2015 quarterback Ricky Town. USC managed to flip the coveted California prospect from Alabama in January.
After beating out an SEC powerhouse for its top in-state target, USC is intent on establishing itself in fertile SEC area hotbeds. The Trojans can take another stride toward a return to national prowess by landing a big fish from across the country like Cowart.
Where will 5-star DE Byron Cowart play college football?
This list is likely to change as time progresses with certain schools emerging and fading in Cowart's mind. With so much interest, it's difficult to count any team out right now.
USC is certainly on the rise and may supplant Oregon as his top West Coast option. Florida is well-positioned to remain at the forefront of this race until Cowart reaches a final decision, while Alabama clearly altered his perspective during the recent visit.
For now, we'll give the Gators a slight advantage over Alabama. The key here could ultimately be head coach job security where Saban and Muschamp sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.