In what has become an all-out war, Alabama scored another victory over Auburn with the de-commitment of Dee Liner, a long time Auburn commitment, on Monday. National Signing Day and the first full year of the Saban-Malzahn recruiting matchup will simply add additional chapters to an intense narrative of a nasty recruiting war. Here’s a review of the last few heated years of the recruiting contest between Auburn and Alabama.
Every November: College football fans witness the fiercest, most intense, most all-encompassing rivalry in all of sports--the Iron Bowl, featuring the Auburn University Tigers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. The winner of the last four Iron Bowls has gone on to win the National Championship (Alabama winning 3, Auburn 1), and the rivalry on and off the field is unparalleled in its intensity.
It is the kind of rivalry that never sleeps; no matter what “score” is settled on the field, the feud continues without interruption, particularly when it comes to recruiting.
The only other football “result” between Alabama and Auburn comes on National Signing Day, and the recruiting “wars” between the schools have been ferocious, not only for overall success but for and over specific recruits.
In the past three years, Alabama has finished first twice and fifth once while Auburn has finished fourth, seventh, and tenth. While Alabama has typically finished with higher rankings, the two teams have consistently recruited among the highest levels in the country. When Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, he promptly stole defensive tackle Josh Chapman, who had long been committed to Auburn, shortly after his arrival in 2007. Chapman went on to become a standout tackle for the Tide and is now with the Indianapolis Colts.
In 2008, on the heels of a several years of Auburn having the upper hand in the rivalry, Alabama dominated the recruiting battle with a class that would set up Alabama’s string of dominance. In perhaps the strongest class that the state of Alabama has ever produced, Auburn was shut out.
Following Auburn’s horrendous 2008 season and the canning of Tuberville, Saban put together another great class and took linebacker Jonathan Atchison from Auburn toward the end of the recruiting season.
However, in Gene Chizik’s first year at Auburn, the Tigers hit back. They won hard-fought battles for players like Shon Coleman and LaDarius Owens, took Craig Sanders from Alabama, and finished higher in the rankings. That edge did not last long. The next year, it got ugly.
While Auburn finished with a great class, the 2011 recruiting class for the Tigers will always be remembered for the ones that got away and the manner in which they got away. In January, during the week of the Army All-American Bowl, longtime Alabama commitment Brent Calloway de-committed and committed to Auburn during the game itself. But the story was not done.
His adoptive guardian was vocally outraged by Calloway’s actions, and, in the days before signing day, Calloway didn’t go to school and was rumored to be in Florida, taken there by his guardian. He emerged from the trip to sign with Alabama. Former publisher of AuburnSports.com, Jeffrey Lee, alleged there were additional misdeeds. He made accusations that someone involved in the Alabama program gave cash to Calloway’s guardian and that the prospect was essentially forced to sign with Alabama. Nothing ever came of the allegations.
Cyrus Kouandjio’s recruitment was much more public. It was a battle all the way up until signing day, and, on that day, Kouandjio announced that he would sign with Auburn. Kouandjio, whose brother was already playing for Alabama, never sent in the fax. Instead, he signed with Alabama several days later.
The following year, Saban scored another victory. T.J. Yeldon, a five-star and long-time Auburn commitment flipped his commitment to the Tide late in the process after repeated denials that he was considering such a switch. He issued the following statement:
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve really put a lot of time and thought into where I want to go to school and continue my football career. I am blessed to be in a situation where I have several great opportunities and I appreciate everyone involved who has helped me get to this point.
“I want to make an announcement so I can put this behind me and get to work on the things I need to do to prepare for college both athletically and academically. I am going to enroll at the University of Alabama in January.
“I have a lot of respect for Auburn, the coaches, and all of the people there, but at the end of the day I feel like the University of Alabama is the best situation and fit for me and my family. I am 100 percent confident with my final decision. I feel great about it and I’m excited to get started.”
As Saban led Alabama toward another top finish in the recruiting rankings, Auburn barely hung on for a top ten finish. The Auburn staff appeared well on their way to their best class yet this year, but were eyeing Alabama commitment Reuben Foster, to get a much needed piece of the puzzle for their team, and to strike back at Alabama when they did. They got their wish, and Foster flipped.
He issued the following statement:
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve really put a lot of thought and time into where I wanted to (continue) my football career. I am blessed that I am in the situation where I have several great opportunities, and I appreciate everyone attending this meeting. I want to make an announcement so I can put this behind me and get on with all the work that I need to do for high school and get prepared for college, both academically and athletically.
“I am going to enroll at Auburn University.
“I have a lot of respect for Alabama and the coaches and all the other people that are there. But at the end of the day, I felt like Auburn University is the place for me and my family and had the best situation for me and my family. I am 100 percent confident with my final decision. I feel great about my decision, and I’m excited to get started.”
If that statement looks familiar, it should. It’s pretty much the exact statement issued by Yeldon the year earlier. To add insult to injury, Foster followed it up with getting an Auburn tattoo.
Auburn’s “day in the sun” ended with the collapse of the 2012 team and the subsequent firing of Gene Chizik and the entire staff. Foster, among others, de-committed. He is now considering Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Washington. Liner de-committed Monday, and the common assumption is that he will sign with Alabama.
The two programs have been at war. Auburn has won the battle in some cases and now even has two former Alabama signees on their team as walk-ons (four star wide receiver Melvin Ray from the 2008 class and four star running back Corey Grant from the 2010 Class), however, Alabama, has been dominant. While new coach Gus Malzahn can’t be judged based on his first class, how well he closes with Foster, defensive tackle Montravious Adams, offensive tackle and soft Florida State commitment Austin Golson, and safety Antonio Connor--all prospects the two programs are competing for--will tell us a lot about how this intense, year-round Iron Bowl competition ends.
** Rankings based on Rivals.com
** Statements from Foster and Yeldon taken from Saturday Down South.com
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