Chizik, Auburn putting together surprising top five recruiting class
When the final 2010 recruiting class rankings are announced late Wednesday, you'll likely see four familiar names -- Florida, Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma -- sitting at or near the top. It makes sense -- they happen to be the four most recent BCS Championship Game participants.
A more surprising entrant, however, should round out the top five: Auburn.
The Tigers currently sit third in Rivals.com's rankings, boasting commitments from former Florida and Blinn Community College quarterback
And the class could still get richer by Wednesday: The nation's No. 1 running back,
With or without Coleman, the class will be a remarkable feat considering where the program stood at the time it began recruiting most of these players. A year ago, Auburn was coming off a 5-7 season, and the Tigers had yet to play a game under current coach
Yet here we are a year later, with a team that went 8-5 and won the Outback Bowl last season poised to sign a class that ranks neck-and-neck with Saban's reigning national champions.
"If we can finish this class strong, we feel it will be best class in the history of the school," said Chizik, who served as Auburn's defensive coordinator from 2002-04. "When this recruiting class is over, it's going to be an attention getter for [future recruits] all over the country. They'll see that those kids saw something special in Auburn."
During his first stint at Auburn, Chizik helped recruit several defenders that wound up starring for the Tigers' undefeated 2004 team. When Auburn's talent level dipped shortly thereafter, Chizik was at Texas, learning from one of the sport's most renowned recruiters,
His experience at both places appears to be paying dividends.
"Gene Chizik has drawn so much of his philosophy from Mack Brown's blueprint of building a family atmosphere, and it has resonated with recruits," said
Chizik and his staff began selling that notion last spring, a time when many of the nation's top juniors make unofficial campus visits (the school can't pay for their expenses). In order to create buzz and entice elite national prospects to come see The Loveliest Village on the Plains, Auburn hosted its first-ever "Big Cat Weekend" in late May.
The two-day event served as a bonding period for about 20 potential future Tigers. Visitors that weekend included Lattimore, Texas running back
The coaches made another big splash last spring with their Tiger Prowl. To start their spring-evaluation tour last April, Auburn coaches showed up at high schools across the state in white stretch limousines adorned with Auburn decals and car flags.
"We're in the most competitive part of the country when it comes to recruiting, and we felt we needed to think a little outside the box to get Auburn's name out there a little bit more than it was previously," said Chizik. "We felt if we could get them to campus ... we could seal the deal."
While many rival fans snickered at the gimmicks, they helped the staff reassert their presence within the state.
In the two full recruiting years following Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa (the '08 and '09 classes), Auburn did not sign a single player ranked among the top 10 in the state. During that same time period, Alabama signed 15.
This year, the battle was far more even -- Saban landed the state's top three prospects (defensive back
"I said publicly, at the time [Chizik] was hired, that it was absolutely imperative for Auburn to start getting some of the [top] in-state kids," said Rivals.com analyst
Auburn rubbed some in the SEC the wrong away with its unusual new tactics. Some wondered how a school that landed just a handful of five-star prospects under predecessor
Ultimately, however, there was no lasting damage, and Chizik did not engender the same type of animosity as former Tennessee coach
"The difference between [Auburn's tactics] and some of the things Lane was doing was that Auburn generated attention that was positive," said Newberg.
All told, the events of last spring seemed to touch off a chain of momentum that's continued all the way up through this week, as four-star defensive tackle
"I really believe their efforts in the spring last year have paid dividends throughout the year," said Luginbill.
"They've been picking up four-star and five-star guys all the time, it seems like," McNeal told the
The most impactful pledge came the day before Auburn's Outback Bowl win over Northwestern, when Newton -- who many expected to join his former Florida position coach,
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound dual-threat athlete served as
"Cam coming here was huge," said Chizik. "He's the only five-star junior college player out there, one of those guys that could have gone anywhere in the country, and he ends up at Auburn. It's a huge statement for where our recruiting is going."
This year, it couldn't have gone much better.