The Auburn Tigers capped off an astonishing turnaround from a 3-9 record by almost upsetting the mighty Florida State Seminoles in the BCS National Championship Game.
Although they fell approximately 13 seconds short of college football's ultimate glory and lost 34-31, head coach Gus Malzahn has restored the Tigers to prominence, to say the least.
That should help the program's recruiting immensely in the coming years—and Malzahn was optimistic about the future even after coming away from Pasadena without The Coaches' Trophy, per AL.com's Joel A. Erickson.
"We're going up," said Malzahn. "The experience that we had, and we got most of our guys coming back, recruiting is going great, and our goal is to get back here, and I really believe we'll do it."
The incoming 2014 class indeed has a promising crop of prospects ready to ride the "Gus Bus." Below is a look at the best commits Auburn has to look forward to this coming season.
Racean Thomas, RB
The in-state star out of Oxford High School is a 5-star prospect on 247Sports.com and is ranked third at his position and 17th overall in the country, per the outlet's composite rankings.
Racean Thomas ran for 2,211 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013 and is 5'11" and 196 pounds with a 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash. His combination of a well-built frame and speed should translate well to the next level, as Thomas will have the mature body to handle the punishment of SEC competition.
Even more bulk could be added to make Thomas a force, but he already possesses the ability to shed tackles and would be an ideal complementary player in his first year at Auburn.
The Tigers' relentless rushing attack led the nation in averaging 328.3 yards per game, so tossing in a talent like Thomas shouldn't hurt.
What stands out most about Thomas on tape is how quickly he can make the transition from cutting to getting north and south without losing any acceleration. It's no wonder he created so many explosive plays.
How much of an impact Thomas has as a true freshman depends greatly on whether junior Tre Mason decides to forgo his final collegiate season and declare for the 2014 NFL draft.
If Mason does, Thomas could get a ton of carries and be a big contributor alongside Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.
Tre' Williams, ILB
Another excellent player from within the state, Tre' Williams hails from Saint Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile and has been staunchly in Auburn's corner since May 2013.
In fact, it's kind of eerie to look back on an interview he did with ESPN after his initial commitment to the Tigers, where he discussed how he thought the Tigers were due to return to the top in the coming years:
Even Williams probably could not have foreseen the turnaround Auburn was in for in 2013, but his faith in the program has evidently been rewarded.
What plagued the Tigers and cost them the national title was inconsistency on defense—something Williams can help with. The 6'2", 230-pounder had 119 tackles in his final high school season, displaying a nose for the football and a knack for being in proper position the majority of the time.
Although 247Sports.com doesn't give him outstanding marks in terms of athleticism, reactive quickness or lateral movement—all seven out of 10 ratings—Williams knows how to diagnose a play and get the job done.
That discipline should help Williams get some early playing time. Whether he'll start remains to be seen and will depend on how he adjusts to Auburn's schemes.
D'haquille Williams, WR
Which player will have the best Auburn career?
Beyond Sammie Coates, the Tigers didn't have many viable playmakers in the receiving corps this season, leaving a void for Williams to fill as the top junior college transfer in the nation, per 247Sports.com.
Williams is a tantalizing prospect coming from Gulf Coast Community College. He has 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 6'3", 213-pound body.
It's hard to imagine more of a ringing endorsement than the one Williams got from Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig, per Rivals.com's Justin Hokanson on Jan. 2:
#Auburn WR coach Dameyune Craig said of five-star signee D'haquille Williams, "he's our Jameis Winston...he's a once in a lifetime player."— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) January 4, 2014
The sky seems to be the limit when it comes to how much of a boost Williams can bring to the Tigers passing game. Quarterback Nick Marshall should take a big step as a passer in 2014 with Williams and Coates on the outside, giving Auburn more balance on offense.
That's a scary thought for the rest of the country, which couldn't stop the Tigers' mostly one-dimensional scheme this past season. Highlights provided by AL.com's Matt Scalici give an indication of Williams' skills.
Bottom line: Williams is a special talent and could very well exceed the 1,000-yard plateau in his first year.