AUBURN, Ala. — At this time last year, Auburn had 13 commitments for its 2014 recruiting class. After Richard McBryde gave his pledge Saturday, the Tigers already have 19 verbal commits for the 2015 cycle.
What has changed in the span of 12 months?
Bryan Matthews pointed to a pair of factors.
"No. 1, it's just the national trend for kids to commit early. They go on visits starting in their sophomore or junior years. A lot of these have already taken half a dozen visits or more," said Matthews, a senior editor for Rivals.com's Auburn site. "And I think the second reason, as far as Auburn is concerned, is that the coaching staff has just managed to catch up recruiting-wise. Most of the guys that are committing now, Auburn started forming that relationship with them back when they were sophomores, so it makes a big difference. It makes them feel comfortable and makes them want to go ahead and commit early."
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It's essential that the Tigers begin forging those relationships and nailing down as many early commitments as they can, Matthews said. Because if Auburn doesn't do it, another school will.
"They're going to end up going to some of your competitors and you're going to lose out," he said. "In order to compete with the Alabamas and the Floridas and the Georgias and the Florida States, you've got to go out and do what they're doing, which is getting a lot of these early commitments."
Recruiting is too fluid to be an exact science; that's why Matthews said there was "no way to know" how many players will end up being part of Auburn's 2015 class. But based on expected roster attrition after this season, Matthews projects the Tigers will sign at least 25 players next February. That number could reach 27, Matthews said, if a player picks Auburn "over another school right at the end."
Owing to the unpredictable nature of recruiting, there's no guarantee all 19 verbal commits the Tigers have so far will still be on board come signing day. Matthews highlighted three players who might have a change of heart: linebackers Montavious Atkinson and Darrell Williams along with cornerback Tony Bridges.
After attending a Georgia camp earlier this year, Atkinson — who plays at Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn, Ga. — impressed the Bulldogs enough that he was offered on the spot. He's now become "a priority" for Georgia, Matthews said. Williams, an in-state product from powerhouse Hoover High School in Hoover, Ala., is still being recruited heavily by Auburn's arch-rival, Alabama. And then there is Bridges. The top-ranked junior college cornerback in the nation, Bridges plays at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss. According to Matthews, Ole Miss is "pushing for him very hard" to make sure he doesn't leave the state.
In the end, however, Matthews believes all will stay true to the Tigers.
"I don't anticipate any of those guys flipping," he said, "but those are the three I'd keep the closest eye on if I'm an Auburn fan."
The Tigers' coaches, meanwhile, have their sights set on adding more members to this class. Martez Ivey is one of them. A four-star prospect from Apopka, Fla., Ivey is one of the top offensive linemen in the Class of 2015.
It doesn't hurt Auburn's chances that his high school teammate, fullback Chandler Cox, has been committed since May.
"Auburn has picked up a lot of momentum in Ivey's recruitment right now and things are looking good," Matthews said. "I don't know if he's going to commit this summer or maybe wait until the fall, but I say the Tigers are in really good shape there."
The defensive line could use some bolstering, though. Not a single one of Auburn's 19 commits for 2015 has come from a defensive lineman.
What the Tigers have on their side, Matthews said, is time.
"They've still got six months to figure that out," he said. "You go back and look at last year's class, and DaVonte Lambert was once committed to Tennessee and Dontavius Russell was once committed to Georgia, but they both ended up at Auburn. You just can't count out (defensive line coach) Rodney Garner when it comes to recruiting."
No one should doubt Jovon Robinson, either. The crown jewel of Auburn's class, the 6-foot, 220-pound running back is regarded as the top JUCO player in the nation regardless of position. Matthews vouches that Robinson is "the real deal." So immense is his talent that Matthews said even college coaches view Robinson as a potential "one-and-done" player on the Plains.
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"He's the type of guy that can come to Auburn, have one of those 1,500-plus-yard seasons like Tre (Mason) did last year and head to the NFL immediately. He's that good," Matthews said. "He's one of those guys you can build your team around offensively. He's really a perfect fit for Auburn's offense because he can cut and tear through a defense quickly."
Robinson's commit speaks well for the class as a whole. Regardless of what happens between now and signing day in February, Matthews believes the Tigers' will ink a top-10 class. Of course, it could potentially finish higher; as of Monday afternoon, Rivals has it at No. 4 in the country. It's a simple formula, Matthews said.
All the Tigers have to do is get the talent on campus and Gus Malzahn and the coaching staff will take care of the rest.
"I think any time (Malzahn) can sign a top-10 class and continue to get great skill position players, great offensive linemen and sign a great quarterback every year, his offense has the chance to be very potent," Matthews said. "They've done great at those skill positions, at quarterback and especially at running back — they've really loaded themselves over the next couple of years at that position. I think it's a really good sign for the future of this program."