Auburn may have only grabbed one commitment from its recent Big Cat Weekend—3-star fullback Chandler Cox, who was not even on campus for the annual recruiting event—the defending SEC champions got some valuable one-on-one time with several of the nation's top recruits.
One of those recruits was 5-star Florida native Torrance Gibson, a dual-threat quarterback at Ft. Lauderdale's American Heritage high school and the nation's No. 1-rated athlete.
After visiting the Plains, Gibson moved Auburn up to "1A," slightly above SEC rival Tennessee in his list of top schools:
According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required), Auburn rose in Gibson's eyes after his second unofficial visit—a visit that did not focus only on the pigskin.
"We weren’t always talking about football," Gibson said. "It was about having fun, enjoying life. It’s not always about the coverages and defenses. It’s a big difference. Not only seeing them as football coaches, but seeing them as a person."
The Tigers are expected to be in a tight race with Tennessee over the next few months, with LSU, Oklahoma and Ohio State rounding out the top five. Gibson is expected to announce his commitment after his senior season at American Heritage, where he helped lead the Patriots to a state championship last year.
Auburn is currently the leader to sign Gibson on 247Sports' Crystal Ball, which compiles predictions from a wide variety of recruiting experts.
B/R's own Adam Kramer put 4-1 odds on Gibson signing with Auburn, slightly behind Tennessee at 3-1:
The Tennessee coaching staff—and its passionate fanbase—has been a leader in recruiting Gibson since before his junior season of high school. The Volunteers' biggest draw is its immediate need for a quarterback as Butch Jones looks to rebuild an SEC contender in Knoxville.
If he signed with Auburn, Gibson would have to compete in a quarterback depth chart that features several former 4-stars: current backup Jeremy Johnson, former Under Armour All-America Game MVP Sean White and possibly fellow class of 2015 member Tyler Queen.
But with a dynamic offensive scheme, a coach known for his success with dual-threat quarterbacks and a roster ready to compete for a national championship, Auburn has more to offer down the road to the left-handed 5-star if it comes down to a two-way battle between the Plains and Rocky Top.
Auburn's Schematic Advantage
While some recruiting experts think Gibson could be a receiver at the collegiate level, Gibson has all the physical tools to be an elite dual-threat quarterback for the school he signs with next February.
At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Gibson brings the durable size coaches and scouts like to see with a scrambler. Gibson also runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, making him one of the quickest blue-chip recruits in the class of 2015.
Jones is implementing the hurry-up spread scheme that led him to success at Cincinnati and Central Michigan, but his offenses have never reached the statistical heights of offenses coached by no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn.
Since his move to Tulsa in 2007, Malzahn has either been the offensive coordinator or head coach for seven offenses that finished in the top 25 nationally in total yards per game, including three top-10 attacks.
|Gus Malzahn vs. Butch Jones: Total Offensive Yards per Game|
|2013||501.3 (11th)||353.3 (104th)|
|2012||466.7 (23rd)||440.2 (36th)|
|2011||337.8 (100th)||386.2 (61st)|
|2010||499.2 (7th)||417.3 (32nd)|
|2009||431.8 (16th)||423.9 (23rd)|
|2008||569.9 (1st)||423.5 (23rd)|
|2007||543.9 (1st)||447.0 (21st)|
With the exception of Auburn's statistically woeful 2011 season, Malzahn's offenses have consistently had more success and talent than ones coached by Jones and longtime offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
From a running back stable featuring several former blue-chip recruits to a dynamic receiving corps to a deep offensive line, Auburn already has the pieces in place to help an athlete such as Gibson excel at the SEC level.
Malzahn's Past Success with Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
In an Auburn offense that is seeking more balance following its option-dominated run in 2013, Gibson would be able to show off both his arm and his legs in an offense that already has a history of producing top dual-threat signal-callers.
Malzahn's offense, which has a solid zone-read foundation, would give Gibson the opportunity to showcase his top-level running ability—something the stat sheets show us he might not get as much in Knoxville.
At Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Tennessee, offenses under Jones rely heavily on their running backs to get most of the yards on the ground.
Central Michigan legend Dan LeFevour ran for 1,122 yards in 2007, Jones and Bajakian's first season coaching the Chippewas. LeFevour followed up those years with marks of 592 and 713 yards on the ground, and the most rushing yards a quarterback had under Jones at Cincinnati was Munchie Legaux's 335 in 2012.
Malzahn, on the other hand, has coached a pair of 1,000-plus-yard rushing quarterbacks at Auburn, possible 2014 Heisman contender Nick Marshall and 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton.
Ryan Aplin ran for 438 yards in Malzahn's only season as Arkansas State head coach, and while Paul Smith's rushing yardage was not extraordinary in a pass-heavier 2007 Tulsa offense, the Golden Hurricane quarterback found the end zone on the ground 13 times.
While quarterback rushing yards in offenses under Jones have progressively declined, quarterbacks in Malzahn's system are now getting more opportunities to run the ball.
One would expect Jones' coaching staff to find ways to let an elite athlete such as Gibson run the ball in the Volunteers offense, Auburn already has an established system favoring dual-threat quarterbacks and an offensive innovator who has a proven track record of helping those types of players succeed.
Chance to Win Now
While offensive schemes, coaching staffs and early playing time are important and specific factors in the recruitment of Gibson and any other top-level high school player, one of the most universally crucial appeals for a school is the opportunity to win early and often.
Gibson is no exception, as he told reporters at Big Cat Weekend that his prospective school's success in the 2014 season will be important in his decision.
"I want to win, too, I don't want to lose," Gibson told AL.com's Wesley Sinor last weekend. "That's why I'm committing. I want to win."
And Auburn is simply in a better position to win in the near future than Tennessee.
Fresh off a SEC championship season, the Tigers were predicted by the SEC's sports information directors to finish a close second behind rivals Alabama for the 2014 SEC title. The Volunteers were picked to finish No. 11 in the conference.
While Auburn has been a preseason Top 5 and inaugural College Football Playoff pick by several media outlets, Tennessee will be fighting this year for its first season of eight wins or more since 2007. In that same time span, Auburn has won eight or more games in four seasons, won two SEC titles and made it to a pair of national championship games.
Auburn proved last season major turnarounds can happen in the nation's toughest conference, and Tennessee could shock the country like the 2013 Tigers did by heading to Atlanta for this year's SEC Championship Game.
Anything can happen in the crazy world of college football, but Auburn's superior recent seasons and recruiting classes point to the Tigers staying ahead of the Volunteers this season and possibly the next couple of seasons.
If winning now is of high importance to Gibson, Auburn should emerge as the winners in the race for one of the country's most coveted offensive playmakers.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from CFBStats.com. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.