AUBURN, Ala. — It was last February, a little over a month after he had been hired as Auburn’s recruiting coordinator, that Curtis Luper outlined the goals he and head coach Gene Chizik had for making the Tigers relevant again to prospective recruits.
The subject of how seriously he took recruiting rankings came up. Luper didn’t duck the question.
“If they’re keeping the score, you want to win, right?” he asked rhetorically.
With only a few weeks remaining before national signing day on Feb. 3, Auburn is primed to have a top-five recruiting class.
Rivals.com ranks Auburn’s current class of 27 commits as the fourth-best nationally. The three teams higher on the list are Florida, Texas and Alabama, the last two national champions and this year’s title game runner-up.
The Tigers’ mid-year enrollees helped bump that ranking. All five of Auburn’s January additions began class this week and will be able to participate in spring drills.
That group includes five-star quarterback Cameron Newton, who backed up Tim Tebow for two seasons at Florida before leading Blinn (Texas) Community College to a junior college national championship last season. The 6-foot-6, 247-pound dual-threat is the popular pick to succeed Chris Todd as Auburn’s starter next season.
Junior college transfers Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley, a pair of four-star recruits both expected to help on the offensive line, are also enrolled, as are linebacker Jessel Curry and defensive end Craig Sanders, a pair of high schoolers who graduated early.
All five count against Auburn’s 2009 class, meaning the Tigers can still sign as many as 28 players to national letters of intent on Feb. 3. Per NCAA rules, only 25 can count as part of Auburn’s 2010 class.
The Tigers will host a sizable group of recruits this weekend, most of which are already Auburn commits, according to Rivals. Included in that group is Olive Branch, Miss., offensive lineman Shon Coleman, whose stock continues to rise.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound tackle, who is the No. 1 recruit in Mississippi, has been bumped up to a five-star athlete following a solid performance in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio last week. He remains a soft Auburn commit but told Rivals he planned to take visits to Miami, Arkansas, Ole Miss and, at least prior to Lane Kiffin’s defection to USC, Tennessee.
Coleman is one of three five-star commits on Auburn’s list, joining Newton and Little Rock, Ark., running back Michael Dyer. The only school with more five-stars is Florida with four.
The Tigers remain in the mix for another five-star recruit, Duncan, S.C., running back Marcus Lattimore. The 6-foot, 210-pound back has trimmed his list to Auburn, Penn State, South Carolina and Oregon. He visited Auburn the weekend of the Ole Miss game.
If things go well in the next few weeks, Auburn is poised to have its highest-ranked class in a while. In 2002, Tommy Tuberville’s staff assembled the sixth-best class nationally according to Rivals, the earliest archived rankings appear on the Web site.
Tuberville only had one other top-10 class, when Auburn finished seventh in 2007. The Tigers ranked 20th in 2008 and 19th in 2009.
Although he wants to win the numbers battle, Luper cautioned that the rankings don’t matter if you don’t do your homework.
“A lot of people get caught up in, ‘He signed so many four-stars, or so many five-stars,’ ” he said last year. “You still have to do a thorough evaluation process.”