While the players left behind by Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville played a significant role in the Tigers’ unbeaten season in 2010, a 14-0 record would have been unlikely without the difference-makers in Chizik’s first two recruiting classes.
Look no further than quarterback Cam Newton, a five-star recruit who won the Heisman Trophy and was without question indispensable to Auburn’s accomplishments.
Add freshman tailback Mike Dyer, who started slowly but broke Bo Jackson’s school record for rushing yards as a freshman and wound up the offensive MVP in Auburn’s championship victory over Oregon, and the Tigers could not have won it all without last year’s recruiting class.
Then there’s defensive tackle Nick Fairley, whom Tuberville signed out of high school in 2007 and Chizik re-signed out of junior college in 2009. Fairley won the Lombardi Award as the nation’s top defensive lineman and has a chance to go first overall in this year’s NFL draft.
“I’d say it’s pretty clear that Auburn’s recruiting is a lot better than it was a few years ago,” said Bryan Matthews, who covers recruiting for AuburnUndercover.com. “Just look at the class they brought in last year and the one they’re about to sign.”
This year’s class, at present numbering 22 oral commitments, is ranked No. 3 by Scout.com and No. 6 by Rivals.com.
Matthews credits the staff that Chizik, now entering his third season, put together and has maintained.
“Under Chizik, they’ve been going after better players, not just in state but around the region and around the country,” Matthews said. “No. 2, Chizik just has more really good recruiters on his staff (than Tuberville).
“Curtis Luper, Tommy Thigpen and Trooper Taylor are three guys who could anchor a staff by themselves as far as a top recruiter, and Chizik has three on the same staff. Then there are some really underrated recruiters like Jeff Grimes and Gus Malzahn and Ted Roof.”
However, it’s not like Tuberville left the table bare.
A look at this year’s depth chart shows that 13 of Auburn’s starters off the championship team were fourth- or fifth-year seniors. All signed under Tuberville, who resigned after the 2008 season and now coaches at Texas Tech.
Standing out in particular were the players on the offensive line, where four of five starters were seniors. Center Ryan Pugh, left guard Mike Berry and left tackle Lee Ziemba were four-star recruits.
Only two starters on the championship team were rated below a three-star recruit.
Success should breed success. Look for the Tigers to continue to attract top-level talent on the heels of their national-championship season.
“It has definitely helped them,” Matthews said. “It will help them even more with next year’s class because many of the players who will form this year’s class had already made up their minds.
“It’s the sophomores and juniors in high school out there who are starting to form their opinions now.”