Who'll be a break-out star in 2012?
War Eagle, everybody! National signing day has come and gone. Despite real worry leading up to, and during the day, Auburn finished with a top 15 class. The Tigers signed 19 players, about 3 short of the 22 most folks feel the Tigers had available. Auburn is holding open those slots in the hope of signing several stars later. While there doesn't appear to be an instant Bo Jackson/Cam Newton/Nick Fairley in this class, it's a strong one nonetheless. Every single guy is at least a 3 star. Added to the top-5 classes the past couple of years, this class could help Auburn return to the top!
Looking at star ratings, over half the signing class is 4 stars, two of which are already in school and will participate in spring drills. Those guys are offensive tackles Patrick Miller and Shane Callahan. In addition, Auburn should greatly benefit from the transfer of veteran starting Illinois fullback Jay Prosch. As has been voiced by others, I'd have liked a couple more big-time linebacker signees. It was tough to do in a year featuring few great linebackers.
This year's angst over recruiting brought up a lot of memories for me. I try to downplay this whole time of year as much as possible. I've seen spectacular classes later riddled with attrition. 1995, anyone? It was said that Terry Bowden had a monster recruiting year, coming off probation. Yes, that class produced Takeo Spikes, Jimmy Brumbaugh, Karsten Bailey and Jeno James. At least half that class never saw the field, or crashed and burned like Robert Baker. Then you have completely unheralded classes like some from the late Barfield Era. Classes that produced Randy Campbell, Lionel James, Ed West, Chris Woods, etc.
When Auburn has produced champions in the past, there's always that euphoric feeling amongst us fans. "We've made it!" "We've ARRIVED!" I wonder how much of that carries over to the team, and the coaching staff? It's like everyone expects the program to sell itself from that point forward. We've seen that scenario time and time again. Dye nearly won it all in 1983, but had a tough time the next two years, and survived it only by jettisoning coordinators and re-trenching. Even as Dye-part-II was winning 3 straight SEC titles, the talent level was declining, culminating in a pair of 5 win seasons that landed Auburn on probation, and starting walk-on nose guard Joe Frazier at tailback. Terry Bowden won his first 20 games, but could not parlay that into consistent recruiting success. Tommy Tuberville won 13 games in 2004, but Auburn's recruiting numbers slid there after.
It seems to me Auburn recruits best when there's immediate playing time available. We've seen Barfield get it going with Andrews, Brooks and Cribbs in his early days. Dye brought in a TON of talent in his early years. Same for Tuberville, luring in Rudi Johnson, Carnell Williams and Jason Campbell in an Auburn rebuilding project. Once again, Auburn's success may have had something to do with this year's class. I think Gene Chizik would be well served to remember that you have to prove it all over again every year. There can be no years off, or you will lose ground. While we admire Gene for handling the coordinator replacements well, and fielding a slightly better defense in the bowl game under his own tutelage, one must wonder how much it all hurt his recruiting efforts. Don't get me wrong. This isn't a bad class by any means. However, it's not a top ten class. Chizik set the bar pretty high the past two recruiting seasons, and this one came up just short. Is it a one-year blip, or a trend? Time will tell. In the meantime...
Which players have the best chance of playing immediately? I'd say 7 or fewer of this class will crack the two deep next season, and the reason is lots of returning talent at Auburn. The Tigers have had to play a lot of freshmen the past two seasons, and that has resulted in a number of veteran juniors and sophomores on the roster for 2012. I'd guess that half this class will redshirt, with a few guys contributing on special teams.
Position by position breakdown, after the jump!
Defensive line: Auburn only signed two guys in this department, after a big group last year. Tyler Nero and Gimel President will likely redshirt, unless they really explode in fall camp. Auburn has good returning depth along the line at both tackle and end, and it would be awfully tough for a true freshman to crack the two-deep in fall camp. After a year of Yoxercise, I'm looking forward to seeing a front four featuring Nosa Eguae, Gabe Wright,, and Corey Lemonier. This unit should resemble the nasty Auburn lines we've become accustomed to!
Linebacker: This is likely Auburn's thinnest position, and there's a good chance either Javiere Mitchell or Cassanova McKinzy could crack the playing rotation. One has to like McKinzy's 230-pound frame coming out of high school. At linebacker, Auburn has only starters Darren Bates, Jake Holland,, and backup Jawara White with any significant experience. Of course, the newcomers will have to get past redshirted freshmen Kris Frost and Chris Landrum, who were on campus last season.
Secondary: It's going to be really tough for any freshman to break into this deep unit. Auburn has at least 4 SEC-starter level corners in T'Sharvan Bell, Chris Davis, Jermaine Whitehead, and Jonathan Mincy. Safety is pretty well stocked too, with Demetruce McNeal, Ryan Smith and Erique Florence all having played a lot in 2011. Auburn signed three corners, Jonathan Jones, T. J. Davis and Joshua Holsey, but I'd expect they'll redshirt.
Offensive Line: Auburn signed 4 guys here, Patrick Miller, Shane Callahan, Avery Young,, and Robert Leff. It's said that offensive line, along with quarterback might be the most difficult place for a newcomer to start right off the bat. Auburn has a number of talented guys returning on the line, including a trio of redshirt freshmen who'll have the advantage of a year in the program. I'd expect all to redshirt, unless there is a rash of lineman injuries in fall camp.
Tight End/Fullback: I've lumped these two positions together, because in a lot of modern offenses, they are nearly indistinguishable. These guys motion here or there, lead block, go out in the flat for passes, and generally try to move around and confuse the defense. Auburn basically only had Phillip Lutzenkirchen who was effective last season, and needed more players. That's why it's kind of surprising that the Tigers only signed one incoming freshman tight end, Ricky Parks. He's a four-star, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't contribute immediately. Illinois transfer fullback Jay Prosch should be an instant starter, and I'd think sophomore Brandon Fulse will make a big move forward. Still, you'd like to have at least 4 guys, and probably more at these two spots. Look for Parks to play early, if he's healthy.
Wide Receiver: Auburn has everyone except Quindarius Carr and Jay Wisner returning here, but the Tigers went out and signed Ricardo Lewis and Jaquay Williams to bolster the unit. It's going to be tough rotation to crack, with veterans Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth, Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, DeAngelo Benton, plus talented returnees Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson in the mix. Unless Lewis or Williams sticks out in the crowd, they are likely to spend a year learning rather than playing.
Running Back: Even with the loss of starter Michael Dyer, Auburn has a stable of returning backs. Onterio McCalebb has three years of experience in the SEC wars, and he's joined by sophomore Tre Mason. Transfers Mike Blakeley and Corey Grant have also put in the work during enforced redshirt years. Auburn signed one running back, Jovon Robinson. Robinson's best chance to play is if he makes the most of his 220 pound frame coming out of high school. Auburn doesn't really have a big power back, and Robinson might fill that niche on short yardage.
Quarterback: Tigers have only two scholarship guys returning, Clint Moseley and Khiel Frazier. Zeke Pike is already enrolled this semester, and hopes to give the two incumbents a run for their money. Also, at the last minute Auburn signedout of Phoenix City. I'd think he'd be unlikely to play next fall, unless there are multiple injuries at quarterback. My thinking is that he's a 4th guy on scholarship at QB right now, but with his athleticism, he may move to another position before it's all over.
So there you have it. Unless the recruit is a fullback, tight end or linebacker, he's unlikely to play next season. I'm thinking there will be some quality depth moving up out of this class in years to come.