Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was in a celebratory mood on national signing day last week.
The Tigers signed 5-star defensive lineman Derrick Brown late in the day to guarantee his third straight top 10 recruiting class.
“This class is a special class, and it’s probably from the standpoint that there are true impact players at impact positions,” Malzahn said.
The problem for Malzahn is that a ‘special class’ in the SEC West is the norm.
His contemporaries in the conference were able to stand at their own podiums on national signing day to trumpet similar elite recruiting classes.
During an interview on national signing day with ESPN, LSU coach Les Mile said he didn’t have a problem labeling his 2016 class as his ‘best ever.’
Auburn’s 2016 recruiting class landed in the top 10, but three other teams in the West including LSU had classes ranked even higher.
Alabama finished with the No. 1 class on 247 Sports, Scout and Rivals while LSU and Ole Miss were ranked higher than Auburn on all three recruiting websites. 247 Sports and Scout had Georgia ranked higher than Auburn as well.
All four teams are on Auburn’s schedule next season.
Malzahn’s real triumph during this recruiting cycle was keeping the 2016 class together despite a mediocre 7-6 record and significant turnover on his staff.
The coach isn’t on the hot seat yet, but a down year in recruiting would have been a bad sign considering the talent level coming into the SEC is outpacing the other power five conferences by such a wide margin.
According to ESPN’s national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton, the SEC landed 109 of the organizations top 300 rated players in this year’s class. The number was more than double the Big Ten had (50) coming in second.
Sports Source Analytics shared related numbers proving the SEC’s dominance on the recruiting trail.
The conference has landed 34.3 percent of all 4- and 5-star recruits since 2005. The Big Ten is the next closest conference, but signed less than half that number.
A top 10 class can be a decisive advantage for a team like Florida State in the ACC.
Clemson was the only other team in the conference that signed a class with anywhere close to the Seminoles level of talent.
The competitive recruiting landscape in the SEC means landing a top 10 class every year is a requirement for Auburn to keep pace with its rivals.