If anyone in the country announced prior to the 2013 season that first-year coach Gus Malzahn would lead the Auburn Tigers to the National Championship game, they would have been laughed out of the building.
Following an abysmal 2012 season that saw the Tigers go winless in the SEC and finish 3-9 overall, most college football prognosticators predicted much of the same in 2013. However, with a revamped running attack led by Nick Marshall and renewed enthusiasm on the Plains, nobody was laughing at Malzahn and company when the season ended.
In an unprecedented turnaround, Auburn finished the regular season with only one loss and handily defeated the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship game. Although Auburn came up short against the Florida State Seminoles, it did very little to dampen the spirits of a program on the rise.
Signing Day 2014 was an important day for Auburn with a number of upperclassmen graduating and Heisman Trophy candidate Tre Mason declaring for the NFL Draft. Auburn wasted no time during the recruiting season and it appears Malzahn has reloaded his squad with high-level talent.
Running back Racean Thomas is one the headliners of this class and for good reason. He rushed for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns in his senior season at Oxford High School (Oxford, Al.) and is expected to make an immediate impact in 2014. Wide receiver D’haquille Williams was regarded as the top junior college prospect in the nation by many publications and looks to be a factor from day one as well.
Offensive lineman Braden Smith of Olathe, KS may challenge the current starters at the guard position. Smith has the prototypical size for a guard in the Wing-T offense and sports amazing physical strength for an incoming freshman, as seen here.
On the defensive side of the ball, highly-regarded linebacker Tre Williams and defensive ends Andrew Williams and Justin Thornton look to possibly fill the gaps created by the graduation of Jake Holland and Dee Ford. Also in the fold are former junior college defensive linemen DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence, who can provide immediate depth and join sophomore Montravius Adams and fellow incoming freshman Dontavius Russell as the future of Auburn’s four-man front. Judging by defensive line coach Rodney Garner’s success with developing young talent, the Tiger line looks to be formidable for years to come. The secondary was bolstered by the speedy duo Kalvaraz Bessent and Nicholas Ruffin. With the loss of graduating seniors Chris Davis and Ryan Smith, these young Tigers could be prepared to take the field early at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
When Auburn takes the field against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Aug. 30, there will be new and old faces roaming the gridiron on the Plains. The young Tigers will have to be on the prowl every week in preparation for the grind of the SEC schedule. Judging by the talent signed by Malzahn this week, he will be shouting his trademark “Boom!” plenty of times in 2014.
Brad Stephens is a contributing writer for rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradstephens320.