A Look At Auburn's Recruiting And Bowl Foe

Phillip Marshall takes an early look at Auburn's football recruiting and writes about the Music City Bowl matchup.

The question has been asked over and over again since the news broke of the scandalous travels of Auburn president William Walker, athletic director David Housel and trustees Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin.

Will it hurt recruiting? The answer is yes, it will and it has hurt recruiting. But the truth is that trip hasn't hurt recruiting nearly as badly as the news that came later. The probation imposed by SACS has hurt most of all.

Without getting into names, that alone has probably cost Auburn at least two, maybe more, players it would have signed. It could and probably will cost Auburn more players before it's all said and done.

Not surprisingly, rival recruiters are telling prospects that their degrees will be worthless, that Auburn will lose its accreditation and won't even have an athletic program. It isn't true, of course. Academics weren't even mentioned in the SACS hearing. Auburn will not lose its accreditation, but the truth has never been a real big part of college recruiting.

Every school is going to use any edge it can get. And the SACS issue was a gift to those recruiting against Auburn.

Years of talking to recruits, high school coaches and college coaches have convinced me that many of the factors people think are important really aren't. Anyone who has ever been the parent of a teenager knows that trying to understand why they make decisions is often a waste of time.

I've said before that I pay little attention to what the so-called recruiting gurus say about prospects. I've seen too many players they said couldn't play become stars and too many they said couldn't miss who missed badly. But this is not going to be a banner recruiting year for Auburn. The problem isn't recruiting rankings. The problem is that too many players Auburn coaches thought they could sign, expected to sign, look like they are going to end up elsewhere.

What does that mean? Maybe a lot, maybe not much. One subpar recruiting year can be overcome as long as it doesn't become a trend. Based on the track record of Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff, there is no reason to believe it will become a trend.

Even this year, in the end, probably won't be the disaster some expect. Auburn will get its share of talented athletes. Nobody at Auburn or any other school will know how good this recruiting class has been until players prove themselves on the field.

But enough of recruiting. That story will be told between now and signing day on Feb. 4. The first order of business for Auburn is Wednesday's game against Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl.

After all that has happened in the past month, the Tigers will finally play football again. My guess is they will play one of the better teams they have played this season. Wisconsin, like Auburn, is 7-5, but the Badgers lost four close games and had injury problems all season.

Winning or losing this game won't make or break either program. The SEC has yet to win in five tries in the Music City Bowl. Two of the teams that lost--Alabama in 1998 and Georgia in 2001--won the SEC championship the following season. But after all that has happened in the last month, Auburn needs a victory just to make people feel better.

Wisconsin averages more than 406 yards per game on offense, but it has a suspect defense. Auburn's offense struggled against good teams all season, but put 511 yards on Alabama. Auburn's defense is ranked No. 6 in the country but rarely causes big turnovers.

The bottom line is it should be an evenly matched game. The team that makes fewer mistakes will probably win.

The guess here is Auburn wins a close one.

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