Auburn football: Turnaround season, last-minute wins have brought Tigers 'credibility' on recruiting trail

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 11, 2013 

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee (left, talking with quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall at the Georgia Dome) said he's put the team's signal-callers through the same drills as the running backs in an attempt to eliminate the fumbling issues that cropped up in 2013.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s on-field success this season is readily apparent.

Just look at the team’s 12 wins this season or the No. 2 ranking beside its name. Taken together, those two numbers will give the Tigers the opportunity to play in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6. While those things are easily measurable and have Auburn in position to capture its second national title in four years, what the numbers don’t immediately reveal is something far more important to the team’s future: its standing in the eyes of recruits.

There is no substitute for victory, after all.

“It gives you credibility,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We come in and we start developing relationships with guys. Auburn being Auburn, everybody automatically has interest in you. A new staff is fresh (and) guys will talk to you. But until they see proof that, ‘Hey, these guys maybe really can do what they say’ or ‘They’re legit,’ it’s sometimes hard when you compete against other teams that have had coaches there or that have been established.”

And no school is more established than Alabama, which has won three national championships in the past four years. Yet two times in less than a month, the Tigers have found a way to flip a pair of former Crimson Tide commits — cornerbacks Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent, respectively — to give Auburn 19 pledges for its 2014 recruiting class.

Lashlee once again hit upon how crucial winning has been to the Tigers’ recruiting efforts.

But he said the manner in which Auburn has won this season was every bit as vital.

“I think probably the way we’ve won games has helped our team more than anything,” Lashlee said. “It doesn’t matter the circumstances they’re put in, they really believe. Until they see triple zeroes and they’re not winning, they don’t have any doubt in their mind they’re going to win a game.”

Nearly every week, the Tigers have found themselves in a close contest. Each time, they have walked away victorious. In games decided by eight points or less this season, Auburn is 7-0 — accounting for more than half of its 12 wins this year.

Of course, no two were more influential from a recruiting standpoint than the team’s back-to-back wins over Georgia and Alabama. Winning those games in such spectacular fashion — using Ricardo Louis’ tipped 73-yard touchdown catch to beat the Bulldogs and Chris Davis’ 100-yard field goal return as time expired to knock off the top-ranked Tide — gave the Tigers exposure they never would have received otherwise.

“I would probably think anytime they roll it on ESPN every 30 seconds, it’s a good thing,” Lashlee said. “We’ve had some games that have gotten a lot of publicity. It can’t hurt.”

As it stands, each of the three major recruiting services — Rivals, Scout and 247Sports — have the Tigers’ recruiting haul ranked among the top 10 classes in the country; Rivals and 247Sports listed Auburn No. 8, while Scout pegged the Tigers at No. 10. With less than two months to go until National Signing Day, Auburn’s 2014 class could get even better

Gus Malzahn wouldn’t expect anything different.

“We’ve got an excellent staff that (is) not just (comprised of) good coaches but they’re good people and they’ve got great relationships with their players outside of football, which is rare,” he said. “We’re a team on the rise. The future is extremely bright.”

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