AUBURN, Ala. — I hope your dead period wasn’t too boring.
Let’s recap it:
- Jarrett Stidham committed and signed with Auburn.
- Salvatore Cannella committed and signed with Auburn.
- Tray Bishop de-committed from Auburn and later committed to Georgia.
- Alec Jackson committed to Auburn.
- KJ Britt, Malcolm Askew and Stidham practiced with the team during the Sugar Bowl.
- Malik Willis de-committed from Virginia Tech and committed to Auburn.
- Britt, Askew, Stidham, Cannella, Willis, Chandler Wooten and Nick Brahms enrolled early at Auburn.
- Oh yeah, and in the final moments, Rhett Lashlee left to take the same position at … UConn?
Surely, I’m missing something, but that’s a busy dead period. That was nothing. The contact period resumed at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, and it’s now a dead heat from here to National Signing Day on Feb. 1. Official visits will be the primary focus the three weekends that follow. Emphasis will also be placed on the first series of in-home visits, which are generally a good gauge of how badly a staff wants a player to join the program.
As the contact period begins, here’s an all-inclusive look at the upcoming weekend and storylines pertaining to Auburn. Updates will be made as news breaks over the course of the cycle.
OVs on the Plains
While the two following weekends might have more star power, the weekend of Jan. 13 — the first official visit weekend of the contact period — will be a solid way to kick off the last month of the recruiting cycle. To my knowledge, there will be three prospects who officially visit the Tigers this weekend. If that number grows, this will be updated. For the time being, it’s 3 prospects: a Michigan commit, an Auburn commit and an uncommitted prospect.
Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports is reporting a Nevada offensive lineman with a legendary name Poutasi Poutasi will officially visit this weekend. I haven’t been able to confirm that. He doesn’t hold an offer and recently de-committed from Louisville. He originally had Auburn on schedule for Jan. 20. If that has in fact changed, I’ll update when I confirm.
Here’s a deeper look at each of the visiting prospects:
- 4-star OT Kai-Leon Herbert, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.): This isn’t anything new. I reported during the Under Armour All-America Game that Herbert — a Michigan commit — is starting to have wandering eyes. He has been committed to the Wolverines since July, but that commitment doesn’t seem as firm as it once was. That starts with the official visits Herbert will take leading up to National Signing Day. Auburn is the first this weekend. He’ll also officially visit Miami and Florida, respectively, in the two weekends after this. Florida has started to take over as the perceived favorite, but if Auburn wants to land its fourth commit on the O-line, Herbert is the starting point. This weekend’s official visit will go a long way to swaying Herbert, if it’s possible.
- 3-star LB/FB Thomas Johnston, Spanish Fort (Ala.): As noted earlier in the week, Auburn is ramping up its efforts on Johnston. The linebacker has attended Auburn games this fall, but it always appeared as if the Tigers were placing emphasis on other prospects. That is beginning to change, which shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, Johnston set the Alabama state record for career tackles in 2016. Auburn might also have some interest in Johnston as a fullback or H-back option. The Tigers need depth there and Johnston is an athlete who could do the job. But he’s also a linebacker. A little subjective input here: Johnston is the guy I’d be looking to add at linebacker if I had to choose (I’d still try to add Tyler Taylor, though). Johnston has already taken his official visit to Iowa. He’ll go to Ole Miss and likely Arkansas later in the month. The big thing to watch here is how Auburn approaches Johnston’s position and role.
- 3-star DL Alec Jackson, Montgomery (Ala.): Auburn’s lone committed official visitor of the weekend is Jackson. He surprise committed to the Tigers on Christmas, which came much earlier than his previously planned signing day announcement. He’ll make his first trip to the Plains this weekend for his official visit. Despite his commitment, Auburn will want to treat this like an uncommitted OV. Jackson still plans to take official visits to Florida and Ole Miss on Jan. 20 and Jan. 27, respectively. He grew up an Auburn fan, so the Tigers shouldn’t be worried. But a great visit this weekend might eliminate Jackson’s desire to even entertain the other schools the last two weekends.
Non-Auburn officials of interest
It won’t be the busiest weekend on the Plains, though it will be crucial to secure Jackson and attempt to sway Herbert and Johnston. Some of the focus will be elsewhere, however, to see how additional targets are being tempted by official visits to other schools. Auburn has a handful of targets who will have busy January calendars. Those begin Friday, and most of them won’t be inside Auburn city limits this weekend. Jan. 20 and Jan. 27 will be the most populated official visit weekends for the Tigers.
So, it’s important to gauge recruits’ interest in other schools when they aren’t at Auburn. Here’s a recap of the 6 top recruits and where they’ll be this weekend:
- 4-star WR Henry Ruggs to Alabama: The Crimson Tide are the expected favorites to land one of the best athletes in the state of Alabama. Florida State also is a contender. Auburn is playing from behind but still aiming to score an official visit the last weekend.
- 4-star safety Devon Hunter to Florida: This is assuming his entire official visit plan wasn’t completely restructured by his Jan. 20 commitment date announcement. Hunter had Florida on his schedule for Jan. 13 as recently as last week. He also planned to go to Auburn and Alabama, but those visits are up in the air with his pending decision. Virginia Tech is a prohibitive favorite.
- 4-star DE Markaviest Bryant to Georgia: I’d be on commit watch here. Bryant may end up deciding to wait it out through the rest of the contact periods and take the other three visits before deciding. But Bryant is a Georgia lean and a home run visit could seal the deal for Bryant. If not, Auburn will have its chance at the end of the month.
- 4-star LB Tyler Taylor to LSU: Auburn and Oklahoma are the leaders here, but LSU can make a move with a strong play on this official visit. Transparently, I’m not sure where Taylor stacks up on LSU’s board compared to Auburn. But LSU just lost Monty Rice to Georgia, so this could be a pivotal weekend for Taylor.
- 3-star OL Jordan Tucker to North Carolina: Tucker switched his visit this weekend from Louisville to North Carolina earlier in the week. He’s already seen Louisville on an unofficial, so I’d expect that was a move to see as many schools as possible. Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand is going to make an in-home visit to Tucker on Thursday. An offer coming? We’ll see. At a minimum, we’ll know more about where Tucker stands before he leaves for Chapel Hill.
- 4-star DL Ryan Johnson to Stanford: Johnson will head out west for his official visit to Stanford this weekend. The Cardinal are a dangerous threat to Auburn’s hopes of bolstering its defensive line haul with Johnson. He said he doesn’t know how or when he’ll make his decision, but he doesn’t anticipate it to drag all the way to signing day. You’ll want to keep a close eye on Johnson from start to finish.
Quick note on in-home visits
More will come out on this in the coming days. Coaches will hit the trail hard Thursday and even into the weekend, though there will be a solid group back in Auburn for the trio of official visitors. Of the visits that coaches plan to take Thursday, a few stick out:
Secondary coach Greg Brown will make his first visit to meet Hunter on Thursday when the contact period hits. That will be an important visit to 1) attempt to solidify an official visit and 2) bring Auburn back into solid position for the top safety target.
Hand will head to Roswell, Ala., to meet with offensive line target Tucker, who doesn’t have an offer from the Tigers yet. It’s unknown at this time what the contents of this conversation will be, but a first-day trip to see a prospect without an offer sounds an awful lot like a trip to deliver someone an offer. If that happens, expect Tucker to visit the last weekend of Auburn. The Tigers would be in the driver’s seat.
Rodney Garner will head to see Markaviest Bryant to start the recruiting cycle. Just like the December period, Bryant will be one of the clear defensive priorities. He has an official visit planned to Georgia this weekend to getting in front of Bryant beforehand will be critical.
Tim Horton and Gus Malzahn will stay in the state of Alabama. They’ll travel to Madison, Ala., to meet with offensive line commit Austin Troxell. The big offensive lineman received positive news regarding his knee injury. He is free to start running. Troxell will officially visit on Jan. 20.
I’ll keep you posted as in-home visits occur and anything newsworthy that comes from them. But remember: Don’t underestimate the importance of these early in-home visits by the Auburn staff. When the December contact period began, that prioritization of Bryant was a major reason why Auburn worked its way back into a hotly contested race with Georgia.