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‘Krootin, 10/20: Onwards, upwards

LaDarius Owens: one of the many reasons to be excited about Auburn's 2010 recruiting class.
LaDarius Owens: one of the many reasons to be excited about Auburn's 2010 recruiting class.

It’s not your imagination. If you put any stock in recruiting rankings at all–and you should–then you should be very, very happy with how Auburn’s staff has recruited thus far for the class of 2010. The expectation after the surprise successes of Signing Day 2009 was that with a full calendar year in which to work, Chizik and Co. would accomplish even bigger and even better things … and they have.

Some of that is that they’ve started making a bigger push in-state, that they’ve made huge strides in filling in the ravaged depth chart at linebacker and offensive line, that they’re widely expected to land what one major service considers the No. 1 running back in the country. But mostly it’s in the overall numbers, in the huge step forward made in the class’s depth.

Look for a moment at Rivals. Their grading system files your run-of-the-mill three star–what we might consider your “average” prospect at the SEC level, with the obvious caveat here that “average” prospects to the gurus do often wind up superstars–at a “5.6” level. A 5.7 is a high-end three-star, with any higher grade worth four stars and above; a 5.5 is a lower-end three-star, with any lower grade worth just two stars or less. (There’s a wide range, in other words, in the quality of recruits that fall under the “three-star” label at Rivals. I like pointing out that Neiko Thorpe had a 5.7 grade and offers from Georgia and South Carolina; Drew Cole had a 5.5 grade and only one other SEC offer, from Miss. St. Even though both were three-stars, one of these players was always much, much more likely to become, well, the player he’s become.)

So: last year, Auburn signed 28 commitments. Rivals called nine of them four-stars, but if we look at “above-average” prospects, with a grade of 5.7 or better, only 13 of them–or 46 percent–graded out at that level. We can do something similar at ESPN, where a grade of 77 is the baseline; of the 25 prospects evaluated for Auburn’s 2009 class*,12 of them, or 48 percent, received a 78 or better.

Those ratios have changed dramatically this season. With Auburn’s last three commitments (LaDarius Owens, Craig Sanders, and Ed Christian) all getting the four-star treatment from Rivals, Auburn already has seven four-stars in the class and seems likely to surpass last year’s total for that level of talent. But it’s the depth in the class as a whole that’s really impressive: of Auburn’s current 19 commitments, 12 are above-average, “5.7”-or-better recruits. If we remove the two kickers–which Rivals does not grade at that level on general principle–the 2010 class’s ratio is 12/17, or 71 percent above the Rivals baseline**. It’s a similar story at ESPN, where 13 of Auburn’s 18 evaluated prospects–72 percent–have received 78s or better .

Obviously there’s a long way to go to Signing Day, and if Auburn’s likely to add a handful of big-name recruits, they’re also likely to add a number of last-minute lesser-rated prospects (a la 2009’s Daren Bates, Josh Jackson, etc.) in an effort to get Auburn back to the full 85 scholarships. So the final percentages here might not be as friendly as they are now. But what’s already certain is that Auburn’s coaches have put together the foundation of a terrific class and have already delivered on the promise they showed last spring. Things are good.

In that same vein… Bryan Matthews offers a “Things are great!” freebie at Rivals. Nothing much in the way of content, but he does suggest Auburn could crack the site’s final top 10 or top 5 when all is said and done. The former, I can buy. The latter? Uh, unless Chizik and Co. have not just multiple five-star RBs, Trovon Reed, Eric Mack, and several other high-profile tricks up their sleeve … No.

Then again, rumor has it … and I do mean rumor: mainstream(ish) as neworleans.com is, this is still every bit as rumorrific as most message board postings (or more, actually, depending on the poster):

On the downside, I hear that RB Lache Seastrunk (Temple, Texas) and Thibodaux ATH Trovon Reed will wind up as Auburn Tigers when the smoke clears. That appears pretty firm as of this past weekend.

Well then. That would be swell. Yessir. Quite swell. And hey, maybe it’s that not baseless: the author, a Mr. Rene Nadeau, has some qualifications (that go beyond his wonderfully Cajun name) and as the color commentator on LSU’s “Tigervision” broadcasts, I can’t imagine that’s the kind of bad news he’d want to report. Nadeau, at least, must feel pretty good about his sources here.

But you know what I quite honestly find almost as encouraging? Even the angry LSU fan in the comments calling himself “LACHEless?” seems a little on the resigned side to seeing Reed go elsewhere. If the “Reed to Auburn” wisdom has become so conventional that even random Internet LSU fans are buying it, well … it’s not that telling, even tea leaves can blow in other directions at any time, we’re still a long, long way from Locks-ville, etc. But that’s also the kind of smoke that would make me think there’s fire out there somewhere. (HT: Joe Auburn.)

Thornton. Mike Thornton is one of the Southeast’s more talked-about prospects these days weekend, what with getting the Lane-Kiffin-in-a-helicopter treatment for his team’s ESPNU-televised game and that write-up from J.C. Shurbutt. Unfortunately, it seems less likely than ever Auburn’s in his future. Check it:

“Georgia would be up there will Penn State right now,” Thornton said. “[The struggles UGA has had on defense], that’s all right because the players they have coming in are a great recruiting class. That’s what I am going to worry about is my class. I am going to worry about what’s going on on Stephenson’s field right now and when I get to wherever I am going, I am going to worry about what’s going on there.”

The Vols are now in the mix thanks in part to the grand entrance that Kiffin and Orgeron made.

“It blew me away, you know,” Thornton said.

Sounds to me like PSU and the Dawgs and the top two, with Tennessee in the mix, and Auburn? They barely draw a mention in the entire piece. And on top of that

Stone Mountain four-star defensive tackle Mike Thornton was scheduled to attend the Auburn-Kentucky game, but decided last-minute to stay closer to home.

“I was planning on going to Auburn with my running back Raymond Sanders (a Kentucky commitment), but we decided to stay home and go to the Georgia Tech game,” said Thornton, from Stephenson, Ga.

Thornton does reiterate that he’s going to visit the Plains eventually and that Tommy Thigpen has been in touch, but the tea leaves still just don’t seem all that encouraging, do they? We’ll see what magic Chizik and Co. can work when he hits campus, but I’m thinking Thornton’s landing elsewhere.

Coleman. Auburn’s most closely-watched “soft verbal” (does Auburn even have any others?), top-100 lineman Shon Coleman, was in town for the Kentucky game and spent some time talking Saturday with shiny new commitment Ed Christian:

“We were just talking about how we have a special opportunity to come in and play early here at Auburn,” Coleman told us. “He told me at halftime that he was going to commit to Auburn” …

Christian said he enjoyed talking with Coleman during the game.

“We just saw each other and I recognized him and he recognized me and we started talking,” Christian said. “It was fun.”

Nothing definitive, but that Coleman sees Auburn as a “special opportunity” and is willing to speak on the school’s behalf to other recruits has to be encouraging. There’s more from that same Rivals link I pointed at earlier (still free as of the time of this posting).

Etc. Jay Tate breaks down the Auburn class by position and need, pointing out that Auburn will need to add another couple of DTs (all the more reason missing out on Thornton would hurt) … Lane Kiffin isn’t the first to put helicopters to use in recruiting.

*ESPN doesn’t evaluate JUCOs for some reason.

**For some context, Ole Miss’s ratio currently sits at 30 percent, Michigan’s at 44 percent, and even the ‘krootin maniacs at Tennessee have a class at 79 percent. Auburn’s not in ‘Bama’s or Georgia’s class just yet, but they’re holding their own against just about anyone else.

Owens photo via al.com.

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