NCF On The Trail: byron cowart

SEC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
It was another incredible year of recruiting in the SEC. More than one-third (117 prospects) of the ESPN 300 signed with SEC schools. The conference also signed 12 of the 20 five-star prospects, and 218 four-star prospects. All but two of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the final ESPN class rankings. Here is a closer look at the 2015 recruiting cycle in review.

The days of waiting for youngsters to make impact in college football are over. If you're a top freshman prospect, you're expected to come in and contribute.

So much for slacking on your training before prom.

But more and more, freshmen are proving to be up for the task of immediate playing time and immediate pressure. Coaches aren't afraid to throw these guys into the fire, and it's working out all around the country.

So who are some freshmen to keep an eye on in the SEC from the 2015 class?

Edward Aschoff: DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia
What the Bulldogs needed in this class were hefty, intimidating, athletic defensive linemen. Georgia got all of that in Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 311-pound behemoth who could see immediate playing time for a Bulldogs team in need of help at the defensive tackle spot. With only five scholarship defensive linemen returning, Thompson will have every opportunity to compete for a starting spot. The five-star was the No. 2-rated defensive tackle nationally, according to ESPN’s RecruitingNation, and was named the 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year. Georgia needs a quality plug in the middle who can stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Thompson has everything needed to be that in 2015.

David Ching: DE Arden Key, LSU
I touched on this subject from an LSU perspective earlier this week. The first player I listed in that post was Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, because he can help address an immediate need. LSU must replace starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. There is some talent returning – Tashawn Bower seems to be a leading candidate to take over one of the starting spots – but nobody has proven himself as a college player yet. LSU struggled to generate sacks last season, finishing 102nd nationally with just 19. Les Miles and his assistants believe Key can help address that issue right away.

Sam Khan Jr.: S Deionte Thompson, Alabama
The ESPN 300 prospect has good size (6-2, 180) and speed and the advantage of being an early enrollee. Thompson, the nation's No. 3 safety and the No. 65 player overall in the ESPN 300, is a versatile athlete (he was a talented high school track and field athlete) and given the departures at safety for Alabama (two graduated plus Landon Collins declared for the draft) there will be spots available. Don't be shocked if Thompson works his way into one of them and plays well.

Greg Ostendorf: S Jamal Peters, Mississippi State
Peters, ranked No. 40 in the ESPN 300, is the highest-ranked player to sign at Mississippi State since Dan Mullen took over, slightly surpassing current defensive lineman Chris Jones (No. 46). Last week, Mullen was already raving about his new toy at his signing day news conference. With Jay Hughes graduating, there’s an opening at the strong safety spot that’s perfect for Peters to come in and play right away. It’s not an easy position to play early, but Peters has the size and athletic ability to do it. The rest he can learn along the way.

Alex Scarborough: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
I'm tempted to go with Kyler Murray here because I believe he could win the job outright, but the QB position is just too hard to predict. So instead I'll turn to a position that does lend itself to making an impact early: running back. I'm going way down the list of the top players in the country to No. 36 Harris. The nation's No. 2 running back has a chance to make a significant impact from Day 1 with Alabama. T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler off to the NFL, remember, and Kenyan Drake is coming off an injury, Altee Tenpenny has transferred out and Tyren Jones has a history of ending up in the doghouse. If Harris, a well-rounded back, can grasp the offense, he could be a dangerous change of pace to the bruising Derrick Henry.

Derek Tyson: DE Byron Cowart, Auburn
The Auburn defense was tied for 92nd in the FBS in sacks by getting to the quarterback only 21 times last season. That was a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and no player was bigger than the No. 1 defensive end and No. 1 player overall, Cowart. The five-star prospect was absolutely dominant during the Under Armour All-America game week of practice. At 6-3, 258 pounds, he is already big and athletic enough to see the field early on in his career at Auburn.

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
Gus Malzahn was not a happy camper after the Iron Bowl. He was frustrated with his team’s execution in the red zone, and he was not pleased with his defense, which allowed 55 points and 539 yards to rival Alabama. One of those was on him. The other he knew he needed to fix.

The day after the game, Malzahn let go of veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson after two seasons on the Plains. Less than two weeks later, he hired ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp to replace Johnson. It was a home run hire for Auburn. In January, Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson were added to the defensive staff, and the transformation was complete.

But this was a defense that allowed 30 or more points in seven of the last eight games. It needed more than a few coaching changes. It needed an infusion of young talent.

Fast forward to Wednesday, national signing day. Auburn finished with the No. 7 recruiting class per ESPN. Of the 27 signees, 13 came on the defensive side of the ball. That group included five players ranked in the ESPN 300 and was highlighted by five-star defensive end Byron Cowart.

"The future is very bright on that side of the football," Malzahn told ESPN after the class was complete.

It didn’t come without drama, though. Oh was there drama. The coaches rejoiced in the morning when Cowart announced he was choosing Auburn over Florida, but grew weary when the signed letter of intent never came through. Finally, it was Muschamp, the man most responsible for landing Cowart, who took the papers off the fax machine about 3 p.m. CT.

The coaches could celebrate once again, knowing they landed the nation's No. 1 player.

"You’re talking about the best player in the country," Malzahn said in his signing day news conference. "So yeah, he’ll have a chance to compete and have a chance to be on the field immediately with his skill set."

Cowart, along with fellow Floridian Jeffrey Holland, filled arguably the Tigers’ biggest need -- players who could get to the quarterback. Auburn finished No. 11 in the SEC this past season with 21 sacks, so developing a pass rush was Priority No. 1 for the new staff.

"We didn’t have Carl Lawson this year, and we had a couple other injuries, too, so I thought it was very important," Malzahn said. "That was one of our priorities -- get some guys so that we could rush the passer with just four guys and not have to blitz. We were able to do that two years ago, and we weren’t able to do that this past year. So that was definitely a focus, and we’re very excited about these guys that signed today."

The other need Auburn wanted to address on signing day was finding players who could cover. The Tigers struggled against the pass last season, and with two starters departing from the secondary, it was important to bring in a handful of new defensive backs.

That is where Robinson comes in. The new assistant coach, who was with Muschamp at Florida, proved instrumental to the 2015 class, specifically in the secondary. Auburn landed four defensive backs in the past three weeks, and Robinson had a large part to do with all four signing Wednesday. It was no surprise that all four hailed from the Sunshine State.

"Coach T-Rob went out -- he already had relationships with some guys -- and he felt very good about them coming in," Malzahn said.

Auburn also signed Richard McBryde and Darrell Williams, the top two linebackers in the state. Both bring versatility, and should help with the transition of defensive schemes now that Muschamp has arrived. That was another key for this class.

"Coach Muschamp, he’s handpicking these guys to fit his defense, and he’s very excited about that," Malzahn said. "We’ve got some guys that can help us immediately."

Wednesday was the next step to rebuilding a defense that let Auburn down time and time again last season. Nobody expects a top-10 group next season, but as Malzahn said, the future certainly looks bright on that side of the ball.

Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.

And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.
videoThe national signing day ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off. The Class of 2015 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners -- and a couple of losers -- on national signing day. Here is a look at the schools that excelled and the schools that had a rough day.


UCLA: The Bruins began the day at No. 17 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, but they quickly moved up to No. 11 with a run of ESPN 300 commitments. No. 111 prospect Chris Clark, a tight end, got the day started and was followed by RB Soso Jamabo (No. 28), OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 105) and OLB Roquan Smith (No. 29). The day got even better in the early afternoon when No. 130 recruit Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver, picked the Bruins over Arizona State. All five of the recruits who committed to UCLA on Wednesday are from different states.

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Byron Cowart, Trey FlowersESPN, Icon SportswireThe top-ranked player in the Class of 2015, Byron Cowart, reminds scouts of Arkansas' All-SEC defender Trey Flowers.
Byron Cowart, the No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300, committed to Auburn on Wednesday morning, choosing the Tigers over Florida. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound defensive end from Armwood High School (Seffner, Fla.) announced his decision live on ESPNU.

The five-star defensive lineman should help an Auburn defensive unit that was tied for 92nd in the FBS in sacks (with 21) this past season. The Tigers’ defense also ranked in the bottom five in the SEC in points per game, total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed.

Auburn’s lackluster effort on defense last season led to the dismissal of Ellis Johnson and the hiring of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. While at Florida, Muschamp built a strong relationship with several key recruits, including Cowart.

Cowart, who registered 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a high school senior, took an official visit to Auburn the weekend of Jan. 16, followed by an unofficial visit to Florida the following week. In the end, it was Cowart’s strong relationship with Muschamp that ultimately led to his decision.

Cowart is the first player from Florida ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and the first No. 1 overall prospect Auburn has signed since ESPN began keeping player rankings in 2006.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsNo. 1 overall recruit Byron Cowart committed to Auburn on signing day.
Commitment impact: Landing the nation’s No. 1 prospect will always have a big impact, but Cowart’s impact on Auburn can’t be understated. Defense was clearly the weak point of the Tigers last season, as they had only 21 sacks and were near the bottom of the SEC in most major statistical categories.

Cowart can be an instant-impact recruit who helps jump-start Muschamp’s rebuilding of the Auburn defense.

What he brings:

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Recruit breakdown: DE Byron Cowart 

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
What he brings: Byron Cowart, the No. 1 prospect in the nation, blends the tools to be a strong quick contributor with room to continue to grow as a football player. Cowart possesses excellent measurables at this stage and can bring an intense, high-motor and physical style of play to the field. He has the ability to be a tough run defender with the size, length and strength to set the edge. He has big, heavy hands and can press, control and disengage from blockers to make a play on the ball. As a pass-rusher he can fire off the ball and have a plan and will be active with his weapons. He also has the ability to knock blockers on their heels and off balance with speed-to-power moves. Cowart with his size and physical upside, could also be a candidate to slide inside in obvious passing situations and use his quickness to try and create mismatches. The five-star recruit can demonstrate a highly competitive demeanor and willingness to work to prepare and improve. With consistent growth and focus, Cowart can be a real well-rounded and highly productive college defender with the ability to contribute right away.

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Just a week ago, people were wondering if new Florida coach Jim McElwain would have much of a 2015 recruiting class given how little time he had to pull it together.

Now, only hours away from national signing day, people are wondering if the Gators can have the strongest recruiting closing of the year after an impressive few days on the commitment front.

Florida is far from an elite class, but McElwain and his coaches have had some very good luck in the past few days, and some people much more familiar with recruiting than me are feeling pretty confident about what Wednesday could bring Florida. What appeared to be a train wreck of a recruiting class less than a month ago is shaping up to be a solid one for Florida's new coaching staff.

Since Jan. 25, the Gators have received eight verbal commitments, none bigger than Monday night's flip of former Miami running back Jordan Scarlett, who could make an immediate impact for Florida, which has many offensive questions. The ESPN 300 member decommitted from the Canes over the weekend, only to commit to Florida on Monday, giving the Gators a much-needed weapon in a class still in desperate need for some solid offensive firepower to take into the 2015 season.

Joining Scarlett on Monday were three-star prospects Chris Williamson (No. 58 athlete) and Kylan Johnson (No. 80 safety), who flipped from Kansas State. Now, these guys aren't those cream-of-the-crop, five-star wonders everyone wants, but the scouting report on Williamson is that his stock exploded a few months ago, and he started gaining attention from a lot of bigger schools. Maybe he's a steal -- maybe not -- but the addition of Williamson and Johnson provided the Gators with some positive momentum to start a crucial week, and they give Florida a couple more bodies to work with in an already impressive secondary.

As it stands now, Florida's 2015 class is comprised of 16 commits, with four being ESPN 300 members. Eleven are three-star prospects. So on paper, people are probably pretty ho-hum about it. And that's understandable. In a recruiting world controlled by golden stars, you can't fault people for snubbing their noses at the current shape of this class.

And I'm sure McElwain and Co. aren't hoping this is how it ends. I'm pretty sure they are hoping for bigger -- and better -- things to come Wednesday. And that's where things get interesting for the Gators because they are still in the mix for a handful of top players, including five-star recruits Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. All three are top-10 prospects, according to ESPN's RecruitingNation, and all three have Florida as finalists.

Ivey might be the most important of the bunch, considering he's the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle and the Gators need all kinds of help with a very thin offensive line, but getting two top defensive ends in Cowart and Jefferson would be a home run for McElwain and his staff.

Florida is also in the running for four-star athletes Ryan Davis and D'Anfernee McGriff, who are both ESPN 300 members, and four-star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who is also a ESPN 300 member. Four-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite, who will likely play running back at the next level, is also very interested in Florida, as are a couple of other offensive line prospects.

Obviously, nothing is set in stone with this class. I mean, it's recruiting for crying out loud, and nothing is true until pen meets paper. But Florida has certainly created some positive momentum to start the most important week of McElwain's start with the Gators.
The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300, Byron Cowart, is just a few short days away from making his college decision. The five-star prospect will announce his final choice Wednesday at 9:10 a.m. ET on ESPNU.

Cowart, his mother Lacroria Wilson, and his 7-on-7 coach and mentor Woodrow Grady will sit down Monday night to discuss and ultimately make a final decision between selecting Auburn or Florida.

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GLEN ST. MARY, Fla. -- For five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, his recruitment has come down to the wire. The second-ranked defensive end in the country visited LSU this weekend, but sent out a tweet this morning with a final list of schools that included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Ole Miss.

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With national signing day two days away, recruiting fans have plenty of questions about how the final few days play out. Where are Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson going to end up? Which team will close the strongest and what schools have been the biggest surprises so far?

With that in mind, I took part in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit’s College Football subreddit page. Check the link out for a recap of the hour-long question and answer session.
AUBURN, Ala. -- At his introductory news conference, new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was asked when he would start recruiting.

"As soon as we get done and walk out that door, we are going," Muschamp responded.

He hasn't stopped. In less than two months, Muschamp and his former assistant Travaris Robinson have helped Auburn land two commitments, bring countless visitors to the Plains, and they have the Tigers in position for what could be a significant haul on signing day.

But Gus Malzahn knew that. He knew the advantages to hiring the former Florida coach with so many top recruits hailing from the Sunshine State in this class. He knew Auburn's chances of landing five-stars Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson would all improve drastically with Muschamp on his staff.

And he was right.

All three players, along with ESPN 300 linebacker Jeffery Holland and four-star athlete Ryan Davis, visited Auburn two weeks ago.

"It was great," Cowart said after the trip. "It was great seeing [Muschamp] here. We're real locked in. He made everything feel like home. I was comfortable, had fun, no stress, no worrying about anything."

Cowart, the nation's No. 1 recruit, has since narrowed his list to Auburn and Florida and plans to make his decision Wednesday morning.

In Jefferson's case, it was his first trip to Auburn since his freshman year. And he probably wouldn't have made it if Muschamp and Robinson weren't on staff.

"That's huge," Jefferson said. "You want to go somewhere where you know. There are knowns and there are unknowns. I have a lot of knowns (at Auburn). I feel comfortable with these guys. I know how they're going to use me in their defense. I know what they're about. My dad and all of them have good relationships."

That familiarity is also why four-star athlete Tim Irvin is already enrolled at Auburn.

Irvin, a native of Palmetto, Florida, visited the same weekend as the others. He was committed to Texas at the time and had plans to enroll in a matter of days. However, he left Sunday as an Auburn Tiger, and he started classes three days later.

Irvin had never been to Auburn. When he made his commitment earlier that month at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Auburn wasn't even a finalist.

"It was just Coach Muschamp and T-Rob, the relationship I had with those guys," Irvin said after he flipped. "They were like a dad to me. I talked to them almost every day in the recruiting process. They were talking the positives and the negatives about me. Most coaches didn't tell me about my positives and negatives.

"So those guys, they helped me through the process. They've been there for me since Day 1, and that's why I want to play with those guys."

That was just the beginning.

The very next weekend Miami products Carlton Davis and Jeremiah Dinson visited Auburn. Both reopened their recruitment after the trip. Dinson committed to the Tigers a day later, and Davis, a former Ohio State pledge, could join him this week.

Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III, a pair of Clemson commitments from the Sunshine State, both reportedly visited Auburn this past weekend. The list goes on.

Obviously, the Tigers won't sign every one of these players. They might not even sign half of them. But just adding one player the caliber of Cowart or Jefferson on signing day would be a huge coup for Malzahn and his staff considering where they stood with both prospects just two months ago before the arrival of Muschamp.

It's unclear how long Muschamp will stay at Auburn, but whether it's one year or five, this 2015 recruiting class will have his footprints all over it.
National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday

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video Byron Cowart's recruiting process is almost over.

"Byron has committed to eight schools in his mind since this process begun," said Woodrow Grady, Cowart's mentor and 7-on-7 coach. "There was Auburn, Florida, FSU, Alabama, Oregon and so on. Byron finds the best in every school. That's what he looks for. He's not looking for the speed traps. That's why he's been all over the place in where he may go."

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