A little over a year ago, nobody in the Auburn family could have envisioned the type of recruiting class that head coach Gene Chizik and his staff would have put together in 2010.
The 2010 class didn't start with their first player commitment in April though. It started when Chizik made a commitment to hiring the best group of assistants in the country—coaches that not only could coach, but could also recruit.
He did just that.
Coaches like Curtis Luper, Trooper Taylor, Tommy Thigpen, Tracy Rocker, and Gus Malzahn are top notch recruiters and, when put together in the right environment under Chizik at Auburn, they produced a nationally top-ranked class, and went toe to toe with SEC rivals Florida, LSU, and Alabama in the process.
With overall depth a huge problem with the 2009 Auburn team, a great recruiting class across the board was needed. By most accounts, this staff got just that.
So let's take a look at some key aspects of the 2010 Auburn recruiting class.
The offensive line and linebacker were the two most pressing needs for Auburn.
The Tigers will feature four seniors in 2010 and had only four scholarship linebackers available for their regular season finale against Alabama last season.
Auburn went out and landed the top-ranked offensive line class in the nation according to Rivals.com. Led by five-star tackle Shon Coleman from Mississippi, the Tigers landed seven total offensive linemen.
Two come from the junior college ranks in Roszell Gayden from California, and Brandon Mosley from Kansas. From the high school ranks, the Tigers landed Coleman, highly recruited guard Eric Mack from South Carolina, guard/tackle Ed Christian from Georgia, center Tunde Fariyike from Georgia, and guard Chad Slade from Alabama.
Coleman, Gayden, and Mosley will all come in and compete for the starting right tackle position that is now open with senior Andrew McCain graduating.
At linebacker, Auburn signed four prospects, all of whom are expected to qualify and contribute to a thin linebacking corps next season.
Jessel Curry from Georgia is already enrolled and actually played both sides of the ball in high school. Three others will join him in the summer. All are from the state of Alabama—Ladarius Owens from Birmingham, Jawara White from Troy, and Jake Holland from Birmingham.
Expect all four linebackers to play in some capacity next season, whether on special teams or as key backups on defense.
In Gus Malzahn's offense, the opportunity for a lot of guys to touch the ball is there, but Auburn needed to add playmakers that fit the offense, and they did just that.
Led by consensus five-star running back Michael Dyer from Arkansas, the Tigers also added big-time athlete and top player in Louisiana, Trovon Reed, receiver Antonio Goodwin from Georgia, big athlete Shaun Kitchens from Georgia, and receiver Jeremy Richardson from Alabama.
All are highly recruited players that can add a much needed dimension to Auburn's offense in the coming years.
None, though, may be more important than Cameron Newton, the junior college quarterback from Blinn Community College in Texas. Newton was regarded by many as the top junior college player in the country and is fresh off leading his team to a junior college national championship.
Newton's skills are exactly what Malzahn is looking for in his offense: a strong armed quarterback that also brings the ability to run. He rushed for almost 700 yards last season at Blinn.
If Newton can live up to the hype, and guys like Dyer and Reed come in and contribute early, the Auburn offense should be one of the better ones in the SEC in 2010.
Front Line Help
The other main position Auburn needed to address with this class was along the defensive line. The Tigers struggled to stop the run last season, and they needed a couple of guys to come in and play immediately.
The Tigers got two big gets in the last few days leading up to signing day: big-time tackle prospect Jeffrey Whitaker from Georgia and defensive end Corey Lemonier from Florida. Auburn beat out Georgia and Miami for Whitaker, and beat out Florida State and Miami for Lemonier.
Expect both Whitaker and Lemonier to play next season.
Auburn is losing All-SEC end Antonio Coleman to the NFL and tackle Jemarcus Ricks to graduation.
To win in the SEC, you have to play defense, and in particular, you have to stop the run. Along with Whitaker and Lemonier, Auburn also signed tackle/end Kenneth Carter from Alabama and stole defensive end Craig Sanders from Nick Saban and Alabama. Sanders is already enrolled and should have a chance for early playing time.
Sending a Message
From the get go, head coach Gene Chizik and his staff have said they want to go after the best prospects in the country, regardless of location. They also want to make Alabama and Georgia their home in recruiting players.
In their first year, they accomplished both goals.
The Tigers signed 11 players from Alabama and eight from Georgia. They also went out and signed the top players in the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana according to Rivals.com. Whitaker was a top-five player in the state of Georgia and Lemonier was a top-five player in Florida.
So not only did this staff go out and sign players that filled important roles to their roster, but they landed very good players and proved a lot of doubters wrong in the process.
The 2010 Auburn recruiting class was a consensus top-five class nationally. If the Tigers can repeat that performance in 2011, they will likely solidify themselves as one of the top players for an SEC championship in the near future—if they haven't already.