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Auburn’s Class Doesn’t Cut Corners

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Given Auburn’s rapid turnaround from a 3-9 disaster in 2012, it seems likely that the Tigers will again be in a position where one defensive stop could bring a national championship.

It’s been 31 days since Auburn succumbed to a last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive by Florida State in the BCS National Championship that cost the Tigers a second national title in four years. If there was a fatal flaw on the 2013 Tigers that won the SEC title and finished 12-2, it was a pass defense that ranked No. 102 nationally.

There’s nowhere to go but up for the Auburn secondary. After Wednesday’s National Signing Day, that climb may be expedited.

“We needed guys who could help us right away,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday of his secondary. “If you look at this group, they are long. They have good ball skills and give us some versatility.”

Among Auburn’s 23 announced signees Wednesday were three cornerbacks ranked as four-star prospects by 247Sports’ 247Composite rankings formula, which combines ratings of multiple major recruiting reporting outlets. Two of those three were previously committed to a school with which Auburn is quite familiar – Alabama.

Stephen Roberts hails from Opelika, Ala., known primarily for being the town you pass through to get from Interstate 85 to the Auburn campus. When you grow up that close to Auburn, the pressure is immense to become a Tiger.

Roberts’ path, although circuitous after a seven-month commitment to the Crimson Tide, did end just down the road from where it started. After committing to Auburn just days after attending the Tigers’ miraculous win over Georgia, Roberts made it official Wednesday by signing his national letter of intent with the Tigers.

“[Roberts] is a hard-nosed guy,”  Malzahn said. “Very good tackler. He'll do whatever. He played quarterback in high school.”

At 6’0” and 177 pounds, Roberts has good size and versatility to play anywhere in the secondary depending on need.

Like Roberts, Kingsland, Ga., cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent also initially committed to Alabama, doing so in March 2013. That changed in December, when less than a month after Roberts flipped to Auburn, Bessent did the same.

Bessent has nearly identical size to Roberts. Having played at nationally renowned Camden County High School, Bessent has played against elite competition throughout his prep career. Sound technique and intangibles should help reduce the learning curve for Bessent when he arrives on campus in the summer.

“We got a guy that can help us immediately,” Malzahn said of Bessent. “He's got very good ball skills and is very athletic. One of the top corners on our board early on.”

For Atlanta’s Nick Ruffin, there was no waffling. Despite being a former teammate of Alabama cornerback Geno Smith at St. Pius X in the capital of Georgia, Ruffin was one of Auburn’s first commitments in the 2014 class. After pledging to the Tigers in May 2013, he never wavered.

“He is long, he is athletic,” Malzahn said of Ruffin. “He's got very good ball skills and is a very good cover guy.”

While Auburn waits on their three prized cornerbacks to arrive on campus, it’ll get immediate help from junior college safety Derrick Moncrief. Previously at Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C., Moncrief enrolled at Auburn last month and will go through spring practice.

Departures in the secondary are significant for the Tigers, so an immediate impact from the team’s younger players will be needed. Having Moncrief already on campus gives him an edge to be in the starting lineup when Auburn hosts Arkansas on Aug. 30 to begin the 2014 season.

Given Auburn’s rapid turnaround from a 3-9 disaster in 2012, it seems likely that the Tigers will again be in a position where one defensive stop could bring a national championship. After Wednesday’s secondary haul, it’s safe to say that they’ll be much more equipped next time around.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.