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Auburn Football Recruiting: Final Thoughts On 2020 Class

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https://twitter.com/AuburnFootball/status/1225182440232144896

Somehow another National Signing Day has passed. It was a cycle that featured plenty of highs and lows for the Tigers. Auburn had 8 decommits this cycle, which I believe is a record for Gus Malzahn, three of those players ending up ranked in the top 100. But it was also the year of pleasant surprises with the Tigers pulling some major recruiting coups this season in the likes of Chris Thompson Jr, Kilian Zierer, Jay Hardy and Zykeivous Walker. Here’s some final thoughts on this 2020 class and some musings on the future.

Class Comparison

At a high level view, here’s how this 2020 class stacks up against previous classes under Malzahn.

For the 6th time in 8 years, Gus Malzahn signed a top 10 class per 247 Composite. Unfortunately, it was also the 7th time in 8 years his class ranked outside of the top 3 in the SEC. That’s just the world you live in when playing football in the SEC West. A #7 ranked class ends up being good for 4th in your division and 5th in the conference as a whole...

But what should jump out to you when reviewing these numbers is the average rating. The team rankings come from the point totals which are generated based on #math:

Second, the calculation. This is the math portion – stick with me. I promise to be brief. The commitments are ranked from highest to lowest based on their star rating. The scores are weighted, based on the rankings, according to a Gaussian distribution formula or a bell curve. In other words, the top recruit is worth 100% of his rating value, the second commit is worth nearly 100% of his rating value, and down to the last recruit who is worth a small fraction of his rating value. This formula ensures that all commits contribute at least some value to the team’s score without heavily rewarding teams that have several more commitments than others.

As such, not only do you need to sign blue chip talent to finish near the top of the rankings but you need to sign top 100 talent if you wish to crack the top 5. That’s why despite signing one of the deeper classes in the country AU finished outside the top 5 due to the lack of top 100 signees (at least compared to those classes ranked ahead of them).

But again, the average rating should stand out. If ranked by that metric then Malzahn has signed his two best classes back to back. The last time he did so was right before the 2017 campaign when Auburn won the SEC West. I am not saying this predicts an SEC West championship in 2021. What I am saying is that Auburn is doing a very good job of stacking top end classes back to back which should continue to keep them in striking range of Alabama, LSU and Georgia.

Here’s the numbers for the whole SEC if you are curious:

Geographic Breakdown

  • Georgia - 10
  • Alabama - 4
  • Florida - 3
  • Texas - 3
  • California - 1
  • Illinois - 1
  • Louisiana - 1
  • Mississippi - 1
  • Tennessee - 1
  • Germany - 1

Unsurprisingly, the meat of Auburn’s class came from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Those 3 states have been and will always be the foundational pieces of Auburn’s recruiting classes. The Tigers did especially well in Georgia despite not flipping Broderick Jones. They signed 5 of the top 20 players in the Peach State per 247 Composite which is why Banner Society named AU the recruiting champs of Georgia in 2020.

While Auburn had tremendous success in Georgia, they took a beating within their own state in 2020. The Tigers signed only 1 player ranked in 247 Composite’s top 10 for the state of Alabama in J.J. Evans. The Crimson Tide signed 7. To make matters worse 2 of those signees, who happened to finish ranked #1 & #2, were once committed to the Tigers. The #3 player was considered a heavy lean heading into his senior season before committing to Clemson. It will always be difficult to beat Bama for the top instate prospects but the Tigers need to at least hold their own especially in 2021 which has a chance to be as top loaded as that 2019 crop.

What I find most interesting though looking at the geography of this class is Auburn’s continued success pushing west of its borders. After only signing 5 players total from the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas in Gus Malzahn’s first 6 classes, Auburn has now signed 8 from those states in the past 2 classes alone.

I expect that trend to continue in 2021, especially in the state of Texas where Chad Morris was once a high school coach and where he built most of his SMU and Arkansas classes from. The loss of Marcus Woodson might hurt Auburn’s chances in the Magnolia state but both Jack Bicknell and Wesley McGriff have experience recruiting there as well due to their time in Oxford. Alabama, Georgia and Florida will continue to be the heart of Auburn’s recruiting classes but it’s important that the Tigers be able to step out of those areas to fill holes in the class elsewhere. It’s been encouraging to see Malzahn’s staff do so in the last 2 cycles.

JUCO Heavy

It’s hard not to notice the amount of JUCO products Auburn signed this year. That was something Gus did a lot early in his tenure before favoring grad transfers in recent seasons. Here’s a quick breakdown of the numbers:

2013 - 6

2014 - 6

2015 - 3

2016 - 2

2017 - 2

2018 - 1

2019 - 0

2020 - 5

So why the uptick? Well Auburn has some major holes they want filled immediately, most notably offensive tackle, defensive tackle and cornerback. From the beginning the Tigers were targeting the top JUCO players at those positions and the strategy seemed to pay off overall. Auburn signed the #3 & #4 ranked JUCO OTs (just missing on the #1), the #1 SDE, #3 CB and the #4 DT. It’s unlikely all five are hits but if the Tigers can at least go 2/5 or preferably 3/5 then they likely have a starting offensive tackle, defensive tackle and cornerback in 2020.

Looking Ahead

Now with the 2020 cycle complete, attention turns to the 2021 class which is already off to a solid start. I will start breaking down the early top targets at each position in the coming weeks (hopefully I finish this time). The Auburn coaching staff has a bit of a new look with the departures of Kenny Dillingham, J.B. Grimes and Marcus Woodson along with the additions of Chad Morris, Jack Bicknell Jr and Al Pogue. We will see if they can keep bus rolling and sign another top 10 class this time next year.

War Eagle!