The competitive nature of college football is unrelenting, especially in the SEC West. A trio of teams each season continues to vie for the right to play in Atlanta come December, and that invitation to play all begins with the hard work put in on the recruiting trail. Once again, the Auburn Tigers' staff got after it, pulling in an amazing 2020 class, but only time will tell if any of the newcomers can help the Tigers claw their way past the likes of Alabama and LSU this season.
By traditional standards, a 9-4 season is very good. Adding context to the wins and losses, Auburn played against seven top-20 teams and four in the top 10, including a win over in-state rival Alabama (48-45) to end the regular season. Through the challenging schedule, the Tigers’ defense remained one of the elite groups in the nation, holding squads to 337.0 yards per game. Auburn’s offense was less prolific than in years past but still marched up and down the gridiron for 406.5 yards per game while averaging 33.2 points. But the entire team will have a different look next season with seven key defensive players off testing their skill in the NFL and only one starter, center Nick Brahms, returning in the offensive trenches.
Auburn landed the country's 11th-best recruiting class a year ago and moved up to seventh this cycle. A pull from both classes will be needed, but which 2020 newcomers will have a chance to make an impact when the ball tees up on Sept. 5 for a home showdown against FCS member Alcorn State?
Tank Bigsby, RB
Even though Auburn had plenty of senior starters in the trenches, the Tigers' run game underperformed in 2019. The load was put upon the shoulders of JaTarvious Whitlow, who responding with 625 yards and nine touchdowns. It was shocking to see Whitlow enter the transfer portal in February, but with the addition of four-star running back Bigsby, there may not be enough touches to go around in 2020. Bigsby is an ideal-sized (5-10, 210) collegiate back and has proven to be a workhorse after rushing for 1,636 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior at Callaway (Ga.) High School. He can also fill the all-purpose role out of the backfield as a more than adequate receiver. Bigsby was an early enrollee, which should help pave the way for playing time this season.
Kilian Zierer, OL
The Auburn staff would not have reached into the junior college ranks for Zierer, a College of the Canyons (Calif.) offensive lineman, if there was not an immediate need. At 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, Zierer has the long arms to get into the chest of the defender but will need to use his time with the team this winter and spring adding mass to his frame to take on an SEC season. With four starting spots up for grabs, Zierer should challenge for a starting spot entering the spring game.
Chris Thompson Jr., S
The Tigers have to find replacements for both Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas leaving an opportunity for Thompson. The four-star safety brings a wealth of playing experience with him heading to The Plains from Texas' Duncanville High School. The Under Armour All-American collided against 6A competition and helped his Panthers squad to the state title game against North Shore in 2019. Thompson earned his 36 scholarship offers as a run-enforcing safety. He could push for time at free safety but must prove he can cover the slot. Extra time this spring with linebacker's coach Travis Williams should help.
Marco Domio, CB
Most Power 5 programs do not like to bring on a junior college transfer unless he is coming in at the winter break. Marco Domio was so impressive during the 2019 season with Blinn College (Texas), defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was okay waiting until the summer to get him. Domio is that rare corner with size (6-2, 190) and speed. He is not afraid to come up in run support either, notching 26 stops in 2019 with two tackles for a loss and eight passes broken up. Domio could be the replacement for departed senior Javaris Davis.
Deandre Butler, DE
With so many holes left open by the graduating class, more help is needed to compete in the SEC from the junior college level; add Butler to the list of hopeful impact players for Auburn in 2020. Butler (6-5, 280) was a beast for Independence (Kan.) tying for fourth in the nation with 11.5 sacks while netting 22 tackles for a loss and 66 total tackles. The hope is Butler can fill Marlon Davidson's vacated position.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.