Auburn recruited quite well during Gene Chizik's tenure. His last three recruiting classes were all within the consensus top 10. For the most part, bringing in talent was not a problem for Auburn under Chizik's tenure.
It's hard not to wonder, however, if Auburn sometimes didn't do its due diligence or ignored character issues in order to secure talent. The problems of 2011 and 2012 are in large part on the coaching staff, but Auburn certainly had its fair share of bad actors. Auburn does risk having an image problem, and as tempting as it will be for the new coach to ignore character and improve the talent level as fast as possible, he really shouldn't. Bringing back the "family" feel that Auburn loves to sell has to be one of the important goals of the new War Eagle coach, and recruiting has a lot to do with that.
Auburn also has the issue of the looming NCAA investigation into recruiting, which could result in sanctions that would make recruiting tougher. The new coach will have to deal with that. He'll also have to deal with Auburn's reputation, deserved or not, as one of the dirtiest recruiting schools in the country.
Every major program "plays ball" to get players, at least to some extent. But the extent to which a school breaks rules does matter. Cops often let someone driving 80 miles-per-hour in a 70 zone go on, while waiting for the guy doing 110 while texting. Auburn's recruiting practices cannot continue to be, or at very least, continue to appear to be that guy.
The new coach will have the tough task of being more Tommy Tuberville and less Gene Chizik in terms of standing up to boosters who are eager to secure top talent by any means necessary. Selectivity counts.
Scheming against the Tide
Scheme and strategy will also be very important in recruiting for the new Auburn coach. Let's face it: Nick Saban (three national titles in a decade and the odds-on favorite for a fourth come January) is probably college football's best coach since Bear Bryant. Auburn is not going to pass Alabama on the field or the recruiting trail any time soon.
What it can do, however, is try to be as competitive as possible. And it can do that by competing as little as possible.
Huh? Allow me to explain.
Alabama runs a traditional, pro-style offense. It carries a lot of running backs and tight ends on its roster, and not as many receivers as some teams do. On defense, the Tide run a multiple 3-4 defense, with a premium put on size.
The supply of these players in and near the state of Alabama is finite. And Auburn is not winning the vast majority of those recruiting battles. If it tries to beat Alabama at its own game, it will lose, at least in the foreseeable future while Saban is up the road.
Knowing this, Auburn needs to reduce the number of players for which it fights Alabama. It can do this via scheme.
Alabama's offensive scheme means that it often has to pass on talented in-state receiver or scat back prospects. The same thing goes here for quarterbacks who run a lot. If Auburn doesn't take them, they'll often go to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia or Tennessee.
What would a scheme look like that could utilize the players described above? Very familiar, actually. It would be something like Gus Malzahn's. Not only would the spread offense be able to have success with some of the players Alabama passes on, but Alabama has not had the greatest success against offenses like Malzahn's (see Texas A&M's upset in Tuscaloosa as a two-touchdown underdog last month).
Auburn can take advantage of market inefficiency created by Alabama's style on defense as well. Alabama's 3-4 look dictates that it takes a lot of big linebackers and defensive tackle types.
Like on the offensive side of the ball, these players are at a premium. Again, Auburn needs to zig while Alabama zags.
How does it do that? By running a scheme that emphasizes quickness and multiple coverages, like the 4-2-5.
The 4-2-5 uses four defensive linemen, including two traditional defensive ends. This is an area at which Auburn can recruit against Alabama. Alabama often takes high school defensive ends and converts them into outside linebackers. While that position is en vogue in the NFL, and a good selling point for the Tide, some players want to remain defensive ends at the college level. That simply isn't possible at Alabama, because the Tide's defensive ends are more similar in build to defensive tackles in a four-man defensive line scheme. Auburn can offer the opportunity to stay at defensive end and rush the passer from that spot.
Linebacker is another area in which Auburn can find high quality players that 3-4 teams like Alabama sometimes pass on, usually due to size. There are plenty of linebackers who are very athletic and instinctive, and who can be bulked to 220-230 pounds with a good strength program and a redshirt year. And the vast majority won't get a look from Alabama. Auburn can utilize these players at linebacker and at the third safety spot used in the 4-2-5 scheme. Similar examples of teams running the 4-2-5 with great success include TCU, South Carolina and Oklahoma (the latter two say they run a 4-3, but in fact mostly line up in a 4-2-5 alignment).
And speaking of South Carolina, former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson may soon be available, with rumors swirling that he could be fired from his head coaching position at Southern Miss. There's no doubt that Johnson can put together an excellent defense in the SEC, and he can run the 4-2-5 scheme.
It's also important to note that Georgia also runs a traditional pro-style offense and a 3-4 defense, like Alabama, so the recruiting pitches that work against the Tide would also work against the Dawgs. That's very important, as you'll see below.
Even running the schemes mentioned above, Auburn will still have its fair share of recruiting battles against the Tide. But by signing four or five players per year who don't fit the Tide's scheme, but who are still high quality, it can get better on both sides of the ball in a hurry.
Continue to recruit Georgia and Atlanta
One could argue that the state of Georgia is just as important to Auburn's recruiting as the state of Alabama. And when consulting a map, it's easy to see why: Auburn is only 35 miles from Columbus, Ga. There's even the famous story of a recruit who believed Auburn was in Georgia.
Auburn has traditionally had a lot of success recruiting the Peach State. Of the current 17-member recruiting class for 2013, five are from Georgia (though many are wavering from their commitments). Auburn's 85-man scholarship roster has 22 players from the state. Recruiting Georgia is very important.
If the new Auburn head coach does not have recruiting ties to the state, he better have an assistant (preferably two) that do have relationships with some of the premier programs in Georgia.
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