Early signing day is less than a month away which means it’s reached crunch time for the majority of the recruits in the 2019 class. With the regular season coming to an end this weekend, teams will one again be able to hit the road and visit with prospects in person. There will be a flurry of official visits leading up to December 19th and as always, plenty of drama. Here’s a look at the biggest storylines to track over the coming weeks for the Tigers.
Will Auburn hang onto to Owen Pappoe?
Coaching change rumors can be the death knell to a solid recruiting class. As much as we all like the sentiment of “pick the coach not the school” in reality that rarely happens. If you don’t like the man in charge of the program, it can be difficult to love the school. On the other hand, if you love the head coach then you might all of a sudden find yourself much more attracted to a program.
I say all this because it explains why 5* LB Owen Pappoe has gone from one of Auburn’s most solid commitment to a possible toss up between the Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers. Everything changed after that lost to the Vols back in early October. Not only was Pappoe in attendance with his close friend and Tennessee commit 5* OT Wanya Morris but immediately following that loss is when the cries for Gus’s job became much louder and more realistic. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Auburn’s top rated prospect.
Jeremy Pruitt and the Volunteer staff have used that controversy to make a strong push. Helped out by Pappoe’s teammate and close friend Morris, the Vols have hosted Pappoe twice in recent weeks in Knoxville. The biggest red flag coming when Pappoe elected to not attend Auburn’s dramatic come from behind win over Texas A&M but instead watched the Vols stumble their way to a 14-3 victory over Charlotte.
Now, with recent support from both Allen Greene and Steven Leath, it seems extremely unlikely a coaching change will happen for Auburn after this season. That also guarantees that Travis Williams will be back as well next year. For pretty much his whole recruitment, the word from all of Auburn’s insiders have been that as long as T-WILL is at Auburn, Pappoe will sign with the Tigers. That still appears to be the belief on the Plains though I am nowhere near as confident as I once was in that statement. But if there’s any coach Auburn fans should trust on the recruiting trail it’s Travis Williams. The Tennessee threat is very real but as of today, I still think he signs with Auburn though that confidence has greatly diminished.
Can the Tigers land Kelly Bryant?
Most of the time a senior quarterback leaving because he was beat out by a true freshman would not be someone highly sought after by top programs. However, this is a very unique case. Bryant led Clemson to an ACC title last season and an undefeated record through the first three weeks of the 2018 campaign. But it was pretty clear that phenom freshman Trevor Lawrence was very much living up to the hype and Dabo made the tough decision to switch to Lawrence before Clemson’s showdown with Syracuse.
Thanks to the graduate transfer rule and the new redshirt rule, Bryant could still preserve his senior year of eligibility because he had only played in 3 games and had graduated. He’s now one of the prized “free agents” of this recruiting class. Auburn is one of many teams that have thrown their hat in the ring.
Arkansas was considered the initial favorite but things have muddied some since then. Bryant has taken official visits so far to Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State and North Carolina. All four are legitimate threats to land the talented dual threat QB. He was expected to use his final official visit on a trip to Miami and then take a mid week unofficial visit to the Plains. But plans have apparently changed.
News: Source tells me that former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant has scrapped his official visit to Miami this weekend and will instead use his last official visit to go to Auburn next week.@CaneSport @JLeeAURivals— Woody Wommack (@RivalsWoody) November 20, 2018
This is pretty huge news for the Tigers. It seems pretty obvious that Jarrett Stidham won’t be back next season and it appears the staff might not be comfortable turning this offense over to Malik Willis. While I am the lead conductor of the Bo Nix hype train, I have to imagine that turning this offense over to a true freshman on what could be a do or die year for Malzahn does not seem appealing. Bryant is a talented QB who is a very good fit for what Gus likes to do. Auburn will get a chance to make the last major pitch to Bryant and then he’s expected to make his decision on December 4th. Do not be surprised if the Tigers trot out another transfer QB to start the season in 2019.
What Top 100 talent might Auburn land in December?
The Tigers currently have four commitments ranked in the 247 Composite Top 100. Auburn is hoping to add a few more before in a few weeks. 5* WR Jadon Haselwood, 5* OT Wanya Morris, 5* LB Nakobe Dean, 5* C Clay Webb, 4* CB Tyrique Stevenson, 4* OT Amari Kight, 4* OG William Putnam and 4* LB Trezman Marshall are all top Auburn targets that are expected to sign early. The Tigers would LOVE for a few of those names to sign with Auburn when that time comes.
As of today, I think the only name on that list Auburn probably leads for is Putnam. Haselwood appears to be trending elsewhere, Morris firm with Tennessee, Dean a Bama/UGA battle, Webb a Bama/UGA/CLEM battle, Stevenson an UGA lean, Kight a pretty solid Bama commit and Auburn trailing Tennessee as the threat to flip Marshall from UGA. Putnam, on the other hand, might be trending Auburn but the Tigers will have to fight off a strong push from Clemson. The Tampa native took an official visit there this past weekend and is now expected to have a decision in the coming weeks. Given Auburn’s struggles in the interior, you could make the argument that he’s Auburn’s most important target on the board right now. He’s supposedly close with a number of Auburn commits, most notably 3* TE Luke Deal. As of today, I think he will end up a Tiger.
As for Marshall, he seems far from solid with Georgia. He took an OV to Tennessee this past weekend and admitted he’s having a hard time with his decision. The Vols appear to have made a surge but the Tigers will more than likely get his last official visit. He’s extremely close with both Owen Pappoe and Travis Williams. Can T-WILL steal another elite LB target from the Dawgs?
One final name on that list to maybe keep an eye on might actually be Amari Kight. The longtime Alabama commit chose the Tide over the Tigers earlier this spring and for the most part appears to be extremely solid. But Alabama is trending for 5* OT Evan Neal which would give them 3 Top 100 OTs in the class. Maybe that doesn’t matter to Kight but if Auburn can get him on campus again for an official visit and can sell him on the huge need right now on the Plains, maybe they pull off the surprise. I suspect though he will stick with the Tide.
Any Surprise Flips?
Auburn has already landed four commitments from recruits formerly committed to a different school in 4* DL Jaren Handy (LSU), 4* DB Cam’Ron Kelly (Virginia Tech), 3* DL Jamond Gordon (Ole Miss) and 3* OT Justin Osborne (TCU). They are pushing hard to add a few more names to this list.
4* DL Charles Moore (Mississippi State), 4* DE Curtis Fann (Florida State), 4* LB Kalen Deloach (Florida State), 3* DT LeDarrius Cox (Tennessee) and 3* OG Kingsley Eguakun (Miami) are all realistic flip options for the Tigers. Per AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr, Moore is expected to take an official visit to the Plains December 7th. He’s very close with Auburn commit Jaren Handy and was on campus a bunch earlier this year. This won’t be an easy pull but Auburn continues to make it interesting.
Fann and Deloach both chose the Noles over the Tigers this past summer but they may be reconsidering. Deloach has already taken an official visit to Auburn earlier this fall and admitted he was giving Auburn some serious consideration. Fann is expected to OV in December. I would not be surprised if either ended up on the Plains.
Finally, there is Cox and Eguakun. It feels like all year it’s been said that Cox was going to flip to Auburn but that’s yet to happen. Could it be because Auburn has made a strong push for Moore and Fann? Maybe. More than likely it could just be that Cox wanted to finish his high school season before focusing once again on recruiting. I expect he will be on an official visit to the Plains in December. Eguakun, on the other hand, seems to still be wrestling with his decision. Earlier this week 3* OG Kamaar Bell told Rivals Auburn was his leader. Would the Tigers take all three of Putnam, Bell and Eguakun if given the chance? I don’t know but that would be a nice problem to have.
Who Signs Early?
Finally, who exactly signs early will be interesting to see, especially among Auburn’s commitments. Last year, all but Coynis Miller, Matthew Hill and Richard Jibunor ended their recruitments in December. Jibunor only went that late because he didn’t understand the signing process while Miller and Hill both wanted to use some official visits in January. The Tigers kept all 3 in the class.
This time around, it looks like there will be three more commitments that will wait until February to sign. George Pickens, Jaren Handy and Jamond Gordon all appear poised to wait until the original National Signing Day to officially sign their letters of intent. I think Auburn will have to fight hard to keep all three on board during that time period but feel pretty good about them all ending up with the Tigers. It might actually be Gordon of that group that’s the least solid.
Despite the struggles on the field, Auburn is still poised to land an outstanding class in 2019. If they can close on a few of these top targets late then it could still end up as one of Gus Malzahn’s highest ranked classes ever.