Art Brut - Good Weekend
It's not often Auburn stories go from zero to earth-shaking as quickly as "Big Cat Weekend." Friday at mid-day: nothin'. And then by Sunday afternoon every Auburn recruiting site, news outlet, and blog on the Interwebs (save, uh, this one) had been breathlessly updated--usually multiple times--on the developments of the weekend. It was like the Limo Gambit all over again, but compressed into a single 24-hour news cycle.
So now that the dust has settled and the toilet paper is getting cleaned off of the Toomer's oaks, what are we left with?
The positives: Well, for starters, the same positive we could take away from the Limo Gambit: once again, this staff has proven that if it can't outwork its opponents on the recruiting trail, it's going to do its damnedest to outthink and out-innovate them. Maybe it ends up working, maybe it doesn't, but you get the sense that as long as Curtis Luper and other assorted sharp cookies like Malzahn and Taylor are around, there won't be any stops not pulled out, no tricks left in the bag. If you'll pardon yet another cliche: if they're going down, they're going down swinging. Being Auburn--specifically, an Auburn caught between Saban on the West, Richt on the East, Meyer and Miles to the South and Kiffykins to the North-- requires nothing less.
You also can't really argue with the caliber of recruit whose attention the staff has managed to grab*. The initial list of visitors is here and includes the top two running backs in the nation, three of the top 40 wideouts in the nation, multiple other four-star recruits from as far away as freaking Connecticut. As Jay Tate said: That's an impressive group. Yes.
Just as encouraging: the weekend seems to have made the desired impression on the young gentlemen in attendance. You can get a quick rundown here as well, but notes worth, uh, noting:
--Lache Seastrunk left offering the same sort of effusive praise for Auburn he offered after his first visit to the Plains. In fact Seastrunk apparently felt so at home on the Plains he felt comfortable going ahead and sending some trash talk in the coachbot's direction, which is, like, great from the "Does he see himself at Auburn?" perspective. (The other perspective we'll get to in a moment.)
--Marcus Lattimore is still as high on Auburn as we could hope him to be. And hey, if you want to dream big as big can be Auburn fan, be my guest.
--Eric Mack is a highly-rated offensive lineman with a serious interest in Auburn, so, yes, safe to say he's something of a key recruit for this class. His reaction to the festivities:
"If I had a top five, they would be number one," said Mack who added that he doesn't have an official top five. "I enjoyed myself. Everything stood out. I felt like I was a home. We did the Toomer's Corner thing. We rolled Toomer's Corner. That was the best experience I've ever had." Mack also talked some football with the coaches and they are selling him on early playing time. "They said I could come down there and big (SIC--ed.) a big impact on their offense," Mack said.There's still a ton of work to be done with Mack--who the article says is set to either camp or visit at many, many prestigious college football programs over the summer--but there's no way to spin "best experience I've ever had" as anything other than a very good start. More good vibes here.
--Auburn needs linebackers almost as badly as they need offensive linemen, and the weekend apparently gave Auburn a boost for both LaDarius Owens
and aforementioned Connecticut product Khairi Fortt. Fortt is intriguing--he's the No. 2 outside 'backer in the country and was apparently interested enough in Auburn to ask Auburn's coaches for some interest rather than vice versa--and would be a huge get, but it's Owens and fellow in-state linebackers Jawara White and Nigel Terrell who are more-or-less the must-gets. Owens, in particular, is a likely four-star with family connections to Auburn who plays a position where Auburn can legitimately offer immediate playing time and the Tide are completely stacked. Losing him would be a bad, bad sign. Fortunately, Auburn seems to be in decent shape.
--In the "firming up" department, Shon Coleman allegedly had his verbal solidified a bit and helped keep Auburn in the good graces of Jeremy Richardson.
--West Virginia LB commit Jessel Curry was "blown out of the water" and wound up staying an extra day on the Plains. (That last bit of info is available free somewhere; can't find the link at the moment.) Curry's not likely to garner a ton of guru approval, but Auburn's not going to look family legacy gift horse-linebackers toting BCS offers in the mouth, either.
Negatives: I seriously doubt I'm the only one who watched the O-A News video of the Toomer's Corner rolling and thought to themselves "there's no way this is all kosher vis a vis the NCAA." So, yeah, not surprised the talk this morning is about possible secondary violations.
I have no idea if they are, of course. PPL put together an excellent pair of back-to-back posts examining the NCAA by-laws and where the weekend's activities might have run afoul of them, and it seems like Auburn's coaches at least paid attention to the letter of the law: they didn't introduce any of the players (though of course they were introduced), they didn't ask/tell Auburn fans to show up for a public Toomer's rolling with the visitors (though of course someone did), they didn't simulate any gameday experiences (to the extent that while Toomer's is rolled all the time for all sorts of reasons, the first reason it gets rolled is for a football victory). So for all of that, the piece of evidence I think is most damning is actually the presence of Aubie--if this really was just a fun, non-gameday-like activity for the visitors "accidentally" crashed by hundreds of nosy fans, what the hell is the official school mascot doing there? Is Aubie not an integral part of Auburn's gameday experience?
But even if everything winds up being technically above-board, I have to be honest here: that whole Toomer's scene makes me awfully itchy as an Auburn fan. It's one thing for Auburn fans to find out Recruit X is going to be at a basketball game and make some signs on his behalf; it's another for the coaching staff to arrange a public meet-and-greet/pep rally involving kids who haven't even started their senior year of high school and a roaring, cheering mob. Sorry, but recruiting's not supposed to be a community effort. The community has too long a track record of not following the rules of recruiting to get it involved.
So: as positive an impact as the Toomer's rolling might have had, I'm hoping it's either seriously modified or dropped entirely for the 2010 edition of Big Cat. Pushing the recruiting envelope in certain directions is fine, good even, but pushing it in the direction that continues to remove the already-tenuous boundaries between high-school recruit and fan is not. And unlike the Limo Gambit--which was never anything more than a successful publicity stunt--I'll be fine if the NCAA refines its regulations to keep this from happening again, at Auburn or elsewhere.
(All that said, whatever violations Auburn might have committed appear to be on the secondary level, i.e. the "OK, just don't do it again" wrist-slap variety. This is the equivalent of Tennessee firing up the smoke machine at Neyland, not Textbookgate. So provided Auburn doesn't turn around and )
Other assorted issues:
--As I said, Seastrunk's willingness to get himself in an Auburn frame of mind is appreciated (and encouraged!), but part of the problem with throwing a giant public WAR DAMN EAGLE party with easily fired-up 16-and 17-year old kids is that one of them might do something like taunt Nick Saban on camera. *Sigh.*
--PPL very sagely pointed this out first, but for a staff supposedly hellbent on reclaiming its fair portion of in-state recruiting, they didn't bring in as many top in-state prospects as you might expect. The in-state invites appear to have geared towards firming up existing Auburn leans (i.e. Richardson, Owens, Terrell) rather than challenging Alabama on players thought to be Tide leans (i.e. Demarcus Milliner, Jarrick Williams). Of course, it could be that Milliner, Williams, etc. just turned Auburn down, and even if it was by design, I suspect Curtis Luper knows a wee bit more about recruiting than I do--so I'm sure this is the best tack for Auburn to take. Still, it would be nice to for Auburn to show more signs of becoming the major in-state player they say they're going to become. (Patience, patience, I know, I know.)
--James Stone and J.C. Copeland didn't show. Would have been nice having Stone--a major offensive line recruit--on campus.
--Getting back to that "itchy" feeling, after getting up this morning and seeing what felt like the 52nd different picture of Lache Seastrunk, I realized that I now know Seastrunk at a glance but that I might not recognize Antonio Coleman if he passed me on the street. I think recruiting is important and the hype for players like Seastrunk is almost justified, especially when we're in the middle of the offseason and nothing much else is going on ... but it still made me sad.
--As I've said before, the final product in February is all that matters ... but damn, it would have been nice to have snagged a commitment at the end of all that.
Pics, links, etc.: Auburntron has a nice gallery of shots up:
You know you're an Auburn fan when you look at a streetlamp lighting up a waterfall of toilet paper strung up in a tree and think to yourself "My God, it's beautiful." More pics and video here.
I'll be interested to see the punditry's reaction to the weekend. Randy Kennedy gets started with a positive response borrowing Malzahn's designation of Auburn's tactics as "extreme recruiting," so that's a start. Though I think we should call it Recruiting X-TREME instead.
And lastly, I'm going to link to PPL one last time, because this is too good not to share:
*This sentence is a train wreck, but after five minutes of trying and failing to make it sound like something that didn't come from the mouth of an alien walking around in a fake human body, I'm cutting my losses and moving on.