Auburn recruiting 2008

Initially, I thought it was just sports radio fodder and message board hysterics. Then a seemingly rational and mature Auburn grad Iíve been e-mailing on Ė an anesthetist no less Ė told me she was freaked out by how ďcrappyĒ Auburnís recruiting class was, especially compared to Alabamaís haul.

At that point I knew things had gone too far and it wasnít just the zealots who were claiming the sky is falling on the Plains. When high salaried professionals who hold peopleís lives in their hands daily start raving like LSD junkies at a fireworks show, itís time for yours truly to step in with some perspective and common sense.

Auburnís recruiting class was everything it needed to be.

First, the facts.

Every meaningful ranking service has Auburnís incoming group slotted as about the 20th best in the nation. Thatís not bad, in fact, thatís downright good.

The 20th position is where Auburn typically falls, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but if you took a five, six, seven year abstract of the recruiting rankings, youíd find Auburn right about #20. And that makes sense because Iíd contend to you that Auburn is about the 20th best football program in the country over the past 20 years, the past 10 years and the past five years.

Look at whose classes finished ranked higher than Auburnís: Florida, Notre Dame, Miami, USC, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Michigan. Those teams all should recruit better than Auburn because they have more resources, better recruiting turf and have generally been more successful on the field.

Furthermore, Auburnís class addressed needs on the defensive line, at wide receiver and at quarterback. Jaime Newberg who is the top recruiting guy at told me the smartest thing Iíve ever heard said about recruiting. He said a good recruiting class comes down to three things: need, speed and balance. Auburnís class has all of those.

So why are Tiger fans so down in the mouth?

Certainly what Alabama did is at the top of the list.

Alabama had arguably the top class in the country and even when you come home with a new Audi, if your neighbor comes home with a new Aston Martin the same day, you feel inadequate.

Secondly, Auburn lost out on a handful of highly prized guys on Signing Day. Players with big pub and stars after their names on the internet chose instead to go to Alabama or Ole Miss or Florida State at the last minute and that took much wind out of the Tigersí sails. But letís take a closer look at those.

The first thing that hits me regarding the Tideís class is the size. Alabama signed 32 players. A school can only put 25 new players on scholarship before each season.

Alabama is sliding two kids in on last yearís numbers because theyíre already enrolled in classes, but that still leaves five players from this year who will be either academically ineligible or forced to sit out. Maybe they play one day, maybe they donít. The recruiting services donít take this fact into account. For this reason alone, all the rankings are highly questionable.

Alabama signed 32 players, Miami 33, Florida State 31, Auburn 28 Ė all knowing that the most theyíll be able to put on scholarship in August is 25.

That simple reality largely invalidates the February rankings to me. A more meaningful time to rank the classes would be when the players finally show up for the first practice and you know who made grades and who didnít, but that wouldnít sell as many internet subscriptions and by August thereís actual games to worry about. The fantasy land of recruiting rankings is set up to fill those long, cold, winter nights when the season seems so far away.

Alabamaís recruiting class is ranked #1 based on all 32 players who signed letters of intent. Knowing at least five of those players wonít be on the team this fall, if ever, the group immediately loses some luster.

Furthermore, considering how bad Alabamaís teams have been the past several seasons and how much Nick Saban seems to dislike all the players he inherited, there are far more opportunities to play immediately at Alabama than there are at Auburn. Thatís a huge determinate for top ranked high school athletes. If a player is considering both Auburn and Alabama and has no particular allegiance to either school, he looks at Alabamaís roster and sees an opportunity to play right away while Auburnís two-deep has quality incumbent players heíd have to beat out to get on the field. Where do you think heís going?

More top high school players choosing to cast their fortunes with the Tide simply because theyíll have the chance to play sooner should come as a surprise to no one.

Bama fans are also giddy, and Auburn fans depressed, that the Tide landed arguably the most talented individual player on Signing Day, a wide receiver from Foley, AL., giving them something of a cherry on top of their recruiting sundae.

Let me give my Auburn friends two things to remember which may allow them to get through the day without prescription anti-depressants. One, wide receiver is typically the flakiest position in football from pee-wee through the NFL and a majority Ė yes, a majority Ė of top high school wide outs do nothing in college. Whitney Lewis, Sean Bailey, Amp Hill, Lance Leggett, Ryan Moore, Fred Rouse, just a few of the ďcanít missĒ WRs who were utter flops that I can name off the top of my head. Two, Alabama still has the ordinary John Parker Wilson at quarterback and every wide receiver is dependant on someone else to get him the ball and that guy for the Tide isnít good.

The last thing to keep in mind about the rankings is the horse race. Every year, what schools do on Signing Day Ė the splashy commit, the school auditorium ball-cap reveal, the surprise switch Ė plays a disproportionate role in the final analysis. Signing Day drama figures larger in the minds of the recruiting gurus than long ago made and followed through verbal commitments because itís fresher and the gurus are looking for new news just like us. We know whose ďverballed,Ē thatís yesterdayís headline. What weíre after on that first Wednesday in February are the cliffhangers. Who gets left at the alter, whose logo is on the hat coming out of the bag on the table at the ESPN Zone?

Itís human nature to place more emphasis upon whatís just happened than what happened weeks, or months, ago, but a good player is a good player regardless of when he commits.

With more and more players making their intentions known earlier and earlier, the surprises of that one day weigh far more heavily than they should and while Alabama had numerous surprises go its way on Signing Day, Auburn had a bunch go the other way. That Auburn had such bad fortune on Signing Day with a handful of its top targets deciding to go elsewhere at the 11th hour and still managed a ranking in the top 20 goes to show how good the class actually was.

The psychology of the Auburn football fan has long been that of the abject pessimist. Every rainbow has a stormy cloud behind it. Considering Auburnís unusual history, that mentality has been often justified, but in the case of the 2008 recruiting class, itís not.

Is it troubling Alabama beat Auburn on so many of the top players in state? Yes. Is Nick Sabanís recruiting success a leading indicator of better Tide teams in the future? Yes. Would it have been nice to keep the nationís best safety, a player from Auburn, in Auburn? Yes.

But I leave Auburn fans on this note. In the past four seasons, the Tigers have won 42 games, one SEC championship, three first rate bowl games, finished in the Top-10 twice and are undefeated against Alabama.

Auburn did all of that with recruiting classes ranked right about where this one is.

Auburn wins football games. Important ones. Auburn matters in the fall. No matter what Alabama did on February 6th, it still doesnít do any of those other things Auburn does right now, donít forget that.

Recruiting matters, itís important, but success in the fall is always sweeter than success in the winter. Auburn has had a lot of success in the fall, and based on this group of recruits, that will continue.

Auburn's recruiting class.
Following the recruiting story.
Urban blight.
Tebow is The Man.
Saban envy.
UGA football should be ashamed of the team celebration.
Tebow's the best of a generation.
SEC fans are the best, and the worst.
Tuberville stays.
Arkansas deserves better than Houston Nutt.
Despite flaws, Jeremy Foley is a great athletic director.
My preseason Top 25.
FSU's monster recruiting class.
Which conference is better? Bowls don't tell us.
The BCS works.
The 2006 All South team.
Florida State is a dead dynasty.
ACC coaches are the worst.
See my preseason Top 25.