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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Auburn Faces New Recruiting Challenges

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxAuburn has not had a good week on the recruiting trail.

Nothing has happened specifically with any 2014 recruits. It’s the negative stories surrounding Auburn’s program that will create such a challenge for the Tigers as they try to rebuild the program following a disastrous 2012 season.

First, there was Selena Roberts’ report on Wednesday alleging payments to players, grade changes and involvement in the robbery case of former Auburn safety Mike McNeil. Then came a Thursday report from ESPN The Magazine alleging Auburn covered up failed drug tests during and after the Tiger’s national championship run in 2010.

Auburn fired back at the ESPN report and did a good job defending itself. But a lot of the damage is done for the Tigers.

Auburn has battled allegations of wrongdoing for more than two years. While the NCAA has yet to find anything to actually punish the Tigers, their public image has taken a huge hit. And that will affect recruiting.

Auburn is already behind most of the SEC in recruiting for 2014. The Tigers have two commitments for the upcoming class, which ranks Auburn 11th in the conference and 39th in the nation by Rivals.com.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn put together a strong staff that should be able to hold its own on the recruiting trail. But there’s only so much any staff can overcome.

Parents will ask a lot of questions and Auburn will likely be prepared with many of the right answers. But opposing schools in the SEC will continue to point out Auburn’s past troubles, which will lead to culture questions about Auburn’s program.

Forget the accusation of NCAA violations. Does Auburn really have its drug issue under control? Thursday’s statement from Jay Jacobs helps show Auburn has made a strong effort to eliminate the use of synthetic marijuana, which is the focus of ESPN’s report.

Still, there’s evidence that drug use has been a problem at Auburn. And the school’s current athletic director and head coach were both part of the football program in 2010 and 2011 when these issues were present. Will parents of recruits trust Jacobs and Malzahn?

“I feel like Auburn betrayed me,” a parent of a former Auburn player told ESPN.

That parent could be wrong and Auburn might have done everything it was supposed to do to alert parents of their children’s drug use. But that quote will be seen in the homes of many recruits around the Southeast.

Roberts’ report and ESPN’s allegations might lead to nothing for Auburn. The Tigers have already survived an NCAA investigation and continue to possess a 2010 BCS championship trophy.

But the more allegations against Auburn we see (and we’ve seen a lot), the more problems Auburn will have as it recruits in the nation’s most competitive conference.

 

Missouri losing ground on St. Louis?

The Tigers received more bad news this week when running back Markel Smith from St. Louis announced he has decommitted from Missouri.

He’s the second 2014 prospect from St. Louis to decommit from Missouri, joining offensive lineman Andy Bauer, who switched his pledge to Ole Miss last month.

That’s only the latest bad in-state recruiting news for Missouri. The Tigers failed in February to sign St. Louis running Ezekiel Elliott, who opted to stick with his commitment to Ohio State. Shortly after that, 2014 running back Dalvin Warmack from Blue Springs, Mo., committed to Kansas State over Missouri.

Missing out on some of the area’s top prospects has some Missouri fans concerned, according to ESPN’s Damon Sayles.

“And whether they want to believe it or not, they are why Missouri Tigers fans are beginning to question the program’s loyalty to recruiting – and sometimes over-recruiting – the greater St. Louis area.”

This isn’t to say Missouri can’t or won’t recruit successfully inside its own state.  The Tigers signed highly-touted athletes Chase Abbington and Aarion Penton in February. And the presence of sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a Springfield, Mo., native, should help the Tigers on the recruiting trail in the future.

But Missouri isn’t in a position to let its top in-state players sign elsewhere, especially somewhere else in the SEC. The Tigers already have enough catching up to do.

 

Tennessee looks east

Tennessee received good news this week when cornerback D’Andre Payne from Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C., committed to the Vols.

He’s the seventh commitment for Tennessee’s 2014 class, which ranks fifth nationally by Rivals.

Payne is also the Vols’ second 2014 commitment from the D.C./Maryland area. Tennessee received a commitment from wide receiver Neiko Creamer from Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md., last month.

Tennessee, which signed wide receiver Paul Harris from Upper Marlboro, Md., in the 2013 class, will surely try to use the pledges of Creamer and Payne on other highly-touted players in their area. Payne believes his commitment to the Vols could affect other prospects.

“I think it helps a lot because it may open their eyes to see how Tennessee is and they might start looking at Tennessee more,” he told ESPN RecruitingNation.

That might not be the case with Payne’s teammate, cornerback Jalen Tabor. He told ESPN that while he likes Tennessee, Payne’s commitment won’t have an effect on his recruitment.

That won’t keep Tennessee – or Payne for that matter – from reminding Tabor and other area recruits about the Vols’ recent commitments.

 

“You’re a baller”

That was Mississippi State’s message this week to Michigan linebacker commitment Michael Ferns from St. Clairsville, Ohio.

While Mississippi State gets an “A” for effort, the Bulldogs’ overall grade has to be a little lower.

As Ferns replied through his Instagram account: “Ummm.. Thanks Coach.” Not exactly a sign of great mutual interest.

Still, it’s a way to leave an impression and it shows Mississippi State’s staff is thinking outside the box on ways to reach recruits.

Mississippi State has one commitment for the 2014 class: athlete Nikia Cathey from Memphis, Tenn.

One thing should make Mississippi State fans feel better: North Carolina State’s letters to recruits.

 


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