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Auburn 2017 National Signing Day: No news is good news

honeybun

It feels like we’ve seen this exact headline every February since Cyrus Kouandjio went rogue, doesn’t it?

On-field, the Gus Malzahn era hasn’t seen Auburn become any less the Georgia Cyclone of college football teams, but on the recruiting trail, Malzahn has made his program the most consistent major recruiting player outside of Tuscaloosa, Columbus, Tallahassee or Baton Rouge. The Tigers’ team ranking for Malzahn’s five classes, per the 247Sports composite: 10th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 9th … and even the 6 isn’t really the outlier it appears to be, since that 2014 class was boosted by including a Malzahn-high 27 signees. The 247Sports average player rating for those classes: 89.06, 88.03, 90.26, 90.72, 89.23. The consistency is jaw-dropping, as is the irony: Auburn fans can’t rely on seeing anything like the same football team from one Saturday to the next, but they can rely on their program signing the exact same recruiting class year after year after.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that at some point, Gus should show improvement on the trail rather than merely holding the line. There’s two problems with that perspective, though, the first being that if you’re not one of the sport’s bluest bluebloods, it’s hard holding a top-10 line. Texas collapsed this year and Texas A&M still needed 27 signees just to finish 12th. Ole Miss was rudely drop-kicked back into its pre-Nkemdiche recruiting days. Tennessee took a class of 28 with 23 three-stars and finished 17th. You’d expect a charismatic capybara to be able to put together a surefire top-10 class at Florida, but Jim McElwain needed a huge late flurry just to sneak into that 10th spot; the Gators’ 88.06 average player rating ranked 18th, just behind Washington.

In other words: if your coach’s name doesn’t rhyme with Sick Naban, Fimbo Jisher or Murban Eyer, there’s a very good chance your team isn’t going to be in the top-10 on an annual basis. It’s a meaningful accomplishment for Gus and his staff that Auburn is.

The other thing: we can be honest enough to recognize that the overwhelming majority of teams that have finished ahead of Auburn during the Malzahn era have recruiting advantages the Tigers do not. Where this year’s rankings are concerned, aside from Oklahoma — whose class of 27 mostly differs from Auburn’s largely in terms of quantity rather than quality — Auburn exceeded every FBS competitor other than Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, USC, Michigan, Florida State and LSU. Can anyone rationally argue that Auburn’s natural recruiting ceiling is on par with any of those programs when they’re recruiting to their potential? Gus got the Tigers to 9th despite being geographically positioned directly between (sigh) one of the on-paper best recruiting classes of all time and Georgia’s state school signing its best class in ages. Yes, I will take that.

The end result is that while Auburn’s National Signing Day continues to have its bursts of excitement in the micro — really, could a player nicknamed Big Cat have gone anywhere else? — in the macro, the 2017 edition only reaffirmed how predictable, anticlimactic, and maybe even boring the event has become on the Plains. The days of Trovon Reed needing to hack into a global satellite network to get his NLI through or Kouandjio setting the state’s Internet on the closest thing to literal fire have never seemed further behind us.

That’s a good thing.

Other notes, thoughts

— So, JaTarvious Whitlow. If you haven’t already, you need to see WTVM’s commitment ceremony video, because he pulls an Auburn hat out of a Honey Bun box.

Wait, that doesn’t do it justice. Hold on a sec. [grabs megaphone] HE PULLS AN AUBURN HAT OUT OF A HONEY BUN BOX.

But you should also watch his highlight video:

So, he’s 6-foot-1, the kind of athlete that wins state titles in track and basketball, and might have gotten more attention if he hadn’t been playing quarterback for a 2A school, you say. Hmmmmm. [rubs chin thoughtfully] Hey, Chris Davis: has Auburn ever had any success with this kind of recruit before?

— Sincerest thanks to Calvin Ashley for getting his NLI into Auburn’s hands before I’d even turned my phone on Wednesday. When we say we don’t want drama on Signing Day, this is exactly what we’re talking about.

— Remember when Auburn had inside linebacking problems? My prediction is that having signed Tadarian Moultry and Kenney Britt, Auburn will no longer have inside linebacking problems in the near future. (Why Auburn Twitter doesn’t play the first highlight here on every-hour-on-the-hour repeat, I don’t know. But these are good, too.)

Malzahn expects all 23 signees to qualify, something no Auburn fan over the age of, say, 8 will ever take for granted.

— It’s the year 2017, y’all.

— Ultimately, how will we remember Auburn’s 2017 recruiting class? As the one that brought us Anders Carlson, of course. Or Jarrett Stidham. But probably Anders Carlson.

Screencap from WTVM’s Whitlow video, shot by Jeremy Hayes.

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