Being No. 1 has its benefits

Things are much easier for Auburn recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper these days. An 8-0 start and No. 1 rankings in the BCS standings tends to make life a little easier on the recruiting front even when battling Alabama, Florida and the rest of the SEC, among others, for top players in the South.

"This start we have really solidifies the commitments we have. There's always that chance if you don't play well you will lose commitments," Luper said. "The start has also opened doors we didn't have early on whatsoever. They (recruits) have called us.

"The bottom line is that we really need to live in the moment and prepare for the next game. But with recruiting, we have to sign a class like last year's class. We have to."

The Tigers landed the nation's No. 4 recruiting class last year and over a dozen members from that class are contributing in their first season at Auburn. Among that list is Heisman Trophy front runner, quarterback Cameron Newton and running back Michael Dyer.

"Their play has been huge," Luper said. "Cam, Dyer, and last year's class are the foundation of this football team. It was out first full class. We had 30 new kids with early enrolles and, as things are in this game, the roster is not set. We don't have much depth and have to sign another great class."

Easier said than done, especially with a recruiting monster to the west in Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Few, if any, have recruited better over the past several years than Alabama and Auburn has to do a better job of beating Bama and signing its share of in-state stars.

"We do and we know that, but at the same time you just can't focus on one team in this conference," Luper said. "There are some unbelievable teams and we have to recruit Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. We have to be successful everywhere. But at the same time, we know it starts in-state.

"It has gotten easier and you can tell the difference everywhere we go. Since we got here in January of 2009, there's a huge difference compared to now, today. The state knows us. People see us. They know our brand and we are winning."

This year's class is off to a strong start -- the Tigers have the 10th-ranked class right now with 14 commitments -- and will likely only get better and deeper (expect Auburn to sign a full class) as it gets closer to February.

"We got the right kids. We have done a thorough evaluation," Luper said. "Our first need was to upgrade talent in secondary and we believe we have a chance to sign the best secondary class in country. That was Coach Chizik's priority. Of course we want offensive and defensive linemen like everyone else. And after this season we will only have two scholarship running backs on campus. That's what we have been after."

Recruits are definitely noticing.

"Auburn is one of my final two schools along with LSU," said four-star offensive lineman Greg Robinson (Thibodaux, La./Thibodaux). "From watching them, you can tell how much they have improved just this season alone. Their play has certainly opened up my eyes to Auburn a little more than if they were 5-3 right now rather than 8-0."

Four-star tight end Brandon Fulse (Fort Meade, Fla./Fort Meade) has also noticed the Tigers. While he's impressed with their play on the field, he's looking at more than the win/loss record.

"They are No. 1 and a good team. I like the coaches and the offense and I am looking at that more than their ranking," Fulse said. "I just want to pick a place where I feel comfortable. I want to do well in college and make it to the NFL."

While Auburn will still do a lot of recruiting work outside the state, the Tigers will still want to land their share from the state of Alabama. One high-profiled prospect who would fulfill a need is Valley (Ala.) High School four-star safety Erique Florence. It will likely come down to Auburn and Alabama for him, although he's also looking at Tennessee, LSU, Oregon, USC, Florida and FSU.

"You know it's funny because I am not surprised at all at how Auburn is playing. I said to my parents last year after their start that Auburn would play for a national championship next year with the staff they have and the players they are getting in," Florence said. "They are on the way up. I was blown away by my first impressions with that staff. And I grew up an Alabama fan and then became an Auburn fan. Being a recruit I have to be neutral. Auburn is where people in my town go for everything. I feel like the pressure is on Alabama, not Auburn."

Other key prospects to keep a close eye on with Auburn are running back Andrew Buie (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) and Tre Mason (Lake Worth, Fla./Park Vista), offensive lineman Jacob Fahrenkrug (Wahpeton, N.D./North Dakota State College of Science), defensive lineman Gabe Wright (Columbus, Ga./Carver), cornerback Marcus Roberson (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) and athlete Kris Frost (Matthews, N.C./Butler). The Tigers would love to land some of these players, but even though Auburn has been successful so far, Luper knows recruiting battles are never easy.

"I know how this works and it's always a hard process. We all know that you get the benefits from winning really the next season," he said. "Heck, three-quarters of the guys have already committed. Next year is when we will really reap the benefits of a big season.

"We will just keep battling and spread our message -- come to Auburn, play early and come play for championships."

Has Jernigan eliminated Gators?
Rumors have been flying that ESPNU 150 member and four-star DT Timmy Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) has eliminated the University of Florida.

Not so fast, as Lee Corso would say.

"He has not eliminated Florida," said Columbia coach Craig Howard. "I think he's just feeling the process and for a while now, everyone around here has him pegged to go to Florida before he has ever made up his mind. I would say he's just feeling the [recruiting] process."

Jernigan, 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds, has already taken an official visit to Michigan. He will make an official visit to USC this weekend.

"I know he really enjoyed the Michigan trip," Howard said. "He also went to Alabama and really like it. This weekend he's going to Los Angeles and visit the Trojans for their Oregon game. That will be an official visit. I would imagine that he will take the rest after the season. "

It's expected that the final three visits will come between four schools -- Florida, FSU, Alabama and LSU.

"Right now I think Timmy's open and I am telling you it's probably going down to the wire," Howard said.

Fanning to meet with coach
As of Wednesday, four-star defensive end prospect LaMichael Fanning was no longer part of his high school team at Harris County High School in Hamilton, Ga. Harris County athletic director Bryce Robinson confirmed that yesterday and said it was "his [Fanning's] choice."

But that could change later today and Fanning was hopeful that he could get back on the team.

"I am meeting with my coach [Thursday]. I am hoping to clear everything up," Fanning said. "I am hoping to get back on the team."

Fanning, 6-6 and 285 pounds, is a member of the ESPNU 150 and the No. 16 rated defensive end in the nation. Fanning played for Harris County as a freshman. He then spent time at Auburn (Ala.) High School and Callaway (Ga.) before coming back to Harris County before the start of his senior season.

Fanning committed to Alabama back in April. It is unclear at this time if this situation will affect his commitment status with the Crimson Tide.

This weekend's visitors
North Carolina has a big visitor this weekend when four-star running back Savon Huggins (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's) comes to Chapel Hill for his official visit. Huggins has already visited Notre Dame and is scheduled to visit Florida in December and Rutgers in January. Huggines is an ESPNU 150 member and the nation's 5th-ranked running back. The Tar Heels will also host offensive lineman Josue Matias (Union City, N.J./Union).

South Carolina is scheduled to host eight official visitors, including four-star tight end Drew Owens (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell) and wide receiver Sheldon Royster (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's). The other six are committed to the Gamecocks -- defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy), defensive end Brandon Golson (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy), defensive tackle Deon Green (Orlando, Fla./Olympia), defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin (Atlanta, Ga./Maynard Jackson), running back Shon Carson (Lake City, S.C./Lake City), safety Brison Williams (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy).

Meanwhile, Mississippi State will host its first official visitor of the 2010 recruiting campaign this weekend in defensive end John Harris (Boynton Beach, Fla./Boynton Beach).

Keep an eye on junior college quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The former Georgia Bulldog is now playing at Butler Community College in Kansas and will officially visit Texas A&M this weekend. It is thought that LSU is the team to beat and he will visit the Tigers officially sometime next month.

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.