Less than two years removed from winning the 2011 BCS National Championship, the Auburn Tigers have fired head coach Gene Chizik (via ESPN). This comes after Auburn finished 3-9 with an 0-8 record in the SEC.
The question is, will his masterful recruiting help Auburn return to glory?
After dropping a 49-0 embarrassment against arch rival Alabama, it's easy to jump the gun and say no. No matter how difficult it may be, however, Auburn fans must temper their frustrations.
Better days are on the horizon.
Chizik may not have won games in 2012, but he has spent the past three seasons constructing some of the best recruiting classes in the nation. According to Rivals, Auburn's 2013 recruiting class ranks 10th in the nation. Per ESPN, they rank seventh.
This comes after piecing together two of the most magnificent classes in the nation in 2011 and 2012. Classes that Chizik should have been allowed to mold in his design.
But I digress.
With Chizik out, the Tigers will likely look to hire an established coach that can carry this team back to the promise land. What that coach will inherit is not a 3-9 ball club, but instead a crop of talent that is on par with almost any in the nation.
Talent that should begin hitting their stride during the 2013-14 college football season.
2013: Building an Elite Defense
Gene Chizik has constructed, arguably, the best defensive recruiting class in the nation.
At the head of the group is 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson (No. 2 ESPN, No. 2 Rivals). Lawson is a 6'2", 251-pound mammoth whose athletic gifts and violent hands have him projected to be one of the top players in the country.
On the opposite side of him could be 4-star end Tashawn Butler (No. 12 ESPN, No. 14 Rivals), who Chizik also locked up. A move which only begins the front seven dominance.
Chizik managed to sign 4-star defensive tackle Dee Liner (No. 2 ESPN, No. 2 Rivals) to clog the middle. He also signed the top two inside linebackers in the nation in Reuben Foster (No. 1 ESPN, No. 1 Rivals) and Trey Johnson (No. 2 ESPN, No. 3 Rivals), with 4-star inside linebacker Cameron Toney (No. 24 ESPN, No. 29 Rivals) joining them.
Paired with 3-star recruit Jarrad Davis at outside linebacker (No. 47 ESPN, No. 31 Rivals), the front seven is close to complete with promising young talent.
3-star cornerbacks Kamryn Melton (No. 39 ESPN, No. 39 Rivals) and Jahmere Irvin-Sills (No. 45 ESPN, No. 31 Rivals) round out the pack with perimeter depth. Although Chizik will not be able to utilize this talent, he has created a bright future for Auburn.
Unfortunately, the Tigers wanted instant results. Not built and then maintained success after Chizik had to deal with the loss of Cam Newton, Michael Dyer and Nick Fairley in a matter of two years.
So how about offense?
2013: Offensive Firepower
He may not be Cam Newton, but the Auburn Tigers have found their quarterback of the future in 6'5" pocket passer Jeremy Johnson (No. 12 ESPN, No. 10 Rivals). Chizik also signed a 4-star receiver and a 4-star running back to pad the offense.
How's that for firepower?
6'3" Earnest Robinson (No. 27 ESPN, No. 4 Rivals) will make his mark on the SEC as one of the most talented wide receivers in the conference. Even as a freshman, it may be fair to label him as the top receiver on the Tigers' roster.
Quite the intriguing pairing as Johnson could potentially throw to him for four years.
Joining them will be 6'2", 205-pound running back Jordan Wilkins (No. 23 ESPN, No. 10 Rivals). Paired with 3-star athlete Lemond Johnson (No. 62 ESPN, No. 37 Rivals), the two backs should be able to provide a boost to the already impressive sophomore back in Tre Mason.
The offense just grew from solid to potentially elite, all due to Gene Chizik's work in recruiting. With this being known, throwing him out was rather premature.
But we cannot change the past. We can only grow excited over an offense which also includes the No. 1 kicker recruit in the nation, Daniel Carlson.
2011's Elite Class
Already alluded to was Mason, who is one of the top running backs in the SEC. No matter how difficult it may be to believe due to the team's shortcomings in 2012, don't fool yourself into believing that Mason is all there is.
This team has talent.
In 2011, Chizik signed center Reese Dismukes (No. 1 ESPN, No. 1 Rivals), offensive tackle Christian Westerman (No. 2 ESPN, No. 3 Rivals ) and guards Thomas O'Reilly (No. 8 ESPN, No. 43 Rivals) and Gregory Robinson (No. 10 ESPN, No. 2 Rivals).
They also signed quarterback Kiehl Frazier (No. 2 ESPN, No. 5 Rivals), tight end Brandon Fulse (No. 5 ESPN, No. 10 Rivals) and wide receivers Quan Bray (No. 5 ESPN, No. 5 Rivals) and Ja'Quay Williams (#26 ESPN, #14 Rivals).
Chizik's 2011 defensive class consisted of safety Erique Florence (No. 4 ESPN, No. 3 Rivals), defensive tackle Gabe Wright (No. 3 ESPN, No. 13 Rivals), defensive back Jonathan Rose (No. 11 ESPN, No. 7 Rivals) and defensive end Jabrian Niles (No. 19 ESPN, No. 31 Rivals).
In other words, the elite talent has been building. One year from today, we could see their 3-9 record reversed.
2012's Elite Class
During the 2012 recruiting period, Chizik worked yet another masterpiece.
On offense, Chizik brought in four 4-star offensive lineman. He also signed wide receiver Ricardo Louis (No. 5 ESPN, No. 27 Rivals) and tight end Ricky Parks (No. 8 ESPN, No. 2 Rivals), which boosted an already solid crop of young studs on offense.
Although they underperformed as freshmen in 2012, the upside is present for better days come the future.
No matter how these players have panned out as underclassmen, Chizik proved he could recruit. Each of the players listed, and countless others, were amongst the most highly-touted athletes in the entire nation.
Elite recruits that Chizik locked up.
Even if 2012 was a year to forget, the future is as bright for Auburn as any team in the entire nation. It's simply a matter of time before these players put it all together and restore the powerhouse mentality of the Tigers nation.
Unfortunately, it won't be Chizik who sees it through. It will be another coach that reaps the benefit of magnificent recruiting.
Rivals Rankings located here.
ESPN Rankings located here.