But the truth is we really won't have a clue how good it was until we see what those players do on the field.
No, I'm not sunshine pumping (see, I'm learning Internet jargon). The events of the last two months have knocked a huge hole in what was set to be an outstanding recruiting year. But all is not lost.
For starters, just because a player isn't offered by numerous big-time programs does not mean he will not be a productive or even a great player. Among the starters on this season's defense, which finished ranked No. 5 in the country, Alabamians Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson were not offered scholarships by Alabama. Georgian Dontarrious Thomas wasn't offered a scholarship by Georgia, Louisianan Reggie Torbor wasn't offered a scholarship by LSU and South Carolinian Travis Williams wasn't offered a scholarship by South Carolina. Cornerback Kevin Hobbs was a walk-on.
That adds up to six of the 11 players who started for most of the season. Somebody did a pretty good job of evaluation.
There are, of course, numerous other examples. Look at the players in the NFL who came from small schools. It's safe to assume none of them were highly recruited. Reggie Slack was one of the top quarterbacks ever to play at Auburn. He was from Florida and drew no interest from the Florida schools. We could go on and on.
Don't fall into the trap of assuming every player who seemingly comes out of nowhere and commits late is a fallback choice. There are at least two players who were offered scholarships early and have been asked to keep it quiet. Neither one is on the national or even regional radar screen, but both are considered outstanding prospects by Auburn coaches.
Summer camps have changed recruiting dramatically. Coaches are able to talk to prospects and put them through physical tests. If a player comes to my camp and doesn't go to your camp, I might offer him a scholarship when you overlook him.
The last time Auburn had a recruiting class ranked in the nation's top five was 1995. By the time those players were seniors, six of them were left. Obviously, that was not a great recruiting class.
Recruiting certainly is important. Most battles go to the side with the heavy artillery. But ranking recruiting classes before any of the players have ever set foot on a college practice field is an exercise in futility.
There are dark clouds hovering over Auburn's basketball program.
On the court, the Tigers are struggling badly, but that's not the worst part. The NCAA investigation that has been hanging over the program for two years is nearing its conclusion. The NCAA Committee on Infractions will hear Auburn's case in Phoenix on Feb. 13.
An Auburn delegation went to Indianapolis earlier this week for a pre-hearing conference. They left frustrated. The NCAA enforcement staff has the slimmest of evidence to back up allegations that improper offers were made to prospects Jackie Parker and Chadd Moore, but it insists on going forward. There are also five secondary violations, minor stuff, to which Auburn has admitted.
The hard truth is no one goes before the Committee on Infractions and comes away unscathed. That doesn't mean one or both of the major charges couldn't be thrown out. They could be. But the committee could also combine the five secondary violations, say they constitute a pattern, and combine them into one major violation. The good news is that Auburn is not accused of lack of institutional control or failure to monitor.
Predicting what the Committee on Infractions will do is not wise, but my gut feeling is that Auburn will lose scholarships but get no postseason sanctions. Even the loss of one or two scholarships could be a disaster on the court. Unless the NCAA changes its 8-5 rule, which says a school can sign no more than five players in one year and no more than eight in a two-year period, the most players Auburn can have on scholarship in the 2005-2006 season is nine. Take away a couple of scholarships and the Tigers will be playing SEC basketball that season with seven scholarship players.
The other danger of major violations is that they mean a school is a repeat violator if it is found guilty of violations in any sport for five years. Alabama learned the hard way about that. When former assistant Tyrone Beamon was caught offering money to prospects, the Tide pleaded guilty and lost one scholarship. But that case made it a repeat violator when sanctions came down on the football program.
Until next time...