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12.18.23 Football Articles


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College coaches now must retain, not just recruit, players with transfer portal rules

Pete Iacobelli and John Zenor | Associated Press
6–7 minutes

College recruiting may start in the homes of the high school player but more than ever it never really stops once they are on campus.

Job 1: Recruit. Job 2: Retain.

The ready opportunities for players to transfer makes it even more important for coaches around the country to devote plenty of time to them once they arrive, hoping to keep promising youngsters and starters alike out of the transfer portal. Schools also want athletes to feel they can earn plenty of endorsement money or compensation right where they are.

“I think the most important thing is relationships,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a familiar refrain among coaches.

The days of blue-chip recruits patiently waiting their turn to get on the field may largely be gone. Even starting quarterbacks like Ohio State's Ryan McCord and Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel and Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen, among plenty of others, have entered the transfer portal.

The portal window is open until Jan. 2, with another one running from April 15-30. It has become a key plug-and-play method for powerhouses and rebuilding programs alike. The top three Heisman Trophy finishers — winner Jayden Daniels (LSU), runner-up Michael Penix Jr. (Washington) and Bo Nix (Oregon) -- were quarterbacks who arrived via the portal. Penix has led his team to the playoff.

Some transfers are looking for more playing time. Others for more money via name, image and deals and better fits. Whatever the players’ reasons for leaving, those coaches have to focus more than ever on keeping them.


Washington State coach Jake Dickert highlighted the predicament facing his program in the decimated Pac-12 in November, citing how far his school is behind on the NIL front compared to teams like Oregon, Washington and USC. He figured December would bring “open target season” for the Cougars.

“We need to provide them with as much resources as we have here to keep this team together, to keep recruiting, to keep going,” Dickert said.

More and more coaches have spoken up about the need for more financial resources being available for NIL deals. N.C State coach Dave Doeren was just one of them, saying earlier this season: "I’d love to see 5,000 people donate $1,000 to our NIL and get us to a point where we can recruit, retain and develop and have a program in the NIL world where the guys on our roster are able to benefit from that.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said tampering with other teams’ players is a big problem. Swinney said the days after the season ended were spent meeting with his team.

“Rosters are not the same because of the portal, because of the trend of guys not playing and you can get in a bad spot pretty quick,” the Tigers coach said. He noted his team is in dire straits at cornerback for the Gator Bowl against Kentucky after Nate Wiggins was among several players opting out of the bowl to turn pro and Toriano Pride Jr. entered the portal.

Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said a key is to prioritize the current players over who may be available in the portal.

“I always want to take care and honor the guys that were here first,” Rhule said. “If guys decide to leave then I’m going to go fix the problem because they left. I’m just not going to tell a guy here to leave so that I can go get somebody else. I want to be the guy that I promised all the parents I am in recruiting.”

Rhule, a former Carolina Panthers coach, can lean on advice from longtime NFL executive Bill Polian about maintaining a healthy locker room environment: make sure you don’t bring in a free agent as the team’s highest-paid player.

Having a cohesive team and strong coach-player relationships doesn’t guarantee some won’t leave. But it can’t hurt.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said there is added emphasis on maintaining relationships, including with promising young players who may not be getting as much playing time as they hoped. Once a month, Stoops tells his coaches to leave their offices and spend time in the weight room or elsewhere with their players.

“We constantly work on that relationship and making sure that we touch base with those players in particular and all of our guys,” Stoops said. “This is a relationship business. As busy as we are, as much as we all have to do, spending time with the players, investing in the players, having the players at your house, having them in for meetings. Keeping that contact is, in my opinion, one of the most important things.”

Marshall coach Charles Huff said the portal options force coaches “to develop genuine relationships with every player in your locker room” not just the starters and seniors.

“I started a deal where I call one or two in my office a week just to say hello, how’s mom,” Huff said. “It doesn’t take long for that girlfriend you don’t call or write to drift away.

“That gap between the relationship they had with you in recruiting and that relationship they have now, when it starts to widen, all of sudden homesickness sets in, a friend from another school calls and says, ‘Hey, I’m playing, why aren’t you playing?’”

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze has staffers charged specifically with “developing relationships” with the players.

“I don’t know that any of us are ever gonna be 100 at it and it certainly makes it very difficult to manage your recruiting and roster,” Freeze said. “But it’s part of the game now, and it’s not a part that many of us like, but you better pay attention to it for sure because it’s here.”

AP College Football Writer Eric Olson contributed to this report.

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5star DB KJ Bolden says hell sign with FSU doesnt intend to visit Auburn

Chris Nee

5–6 minutes

5-star DB KJ Bolden says he'll sign with FSU, doesn't intend to visit Auburn

Five-star defensive back KJ Bolden talks about FSU putting the finishing touches on his recruitment with his official visit.

TALLAHASSEE -- Buford (Ga.) five-star safety KJ Bolden has been committed to the Seminoles since August 5th. The Seminoles beat out Auburn and Georgia for his pledge. This past weekend, the Seminoles hosted Bolden, his parents and his grandparents, among others in his travel party for his official visit.

Bolden told reporters immediately after his visit concluded on Sunday morning that he intended to sign with FSU.

“Cmon man, you know that," Bolden said.

As for rumors that he'd visit Auburn on Sunday afternoon, he said "nah, I'm not doing that."

KJ Bolden says he is not visiting Auburn today after his FSU visit. Plan is to sign with FSU: “you already know that.” pic.twitter.com/dGJEqKFKUk

— Brendan Sonnone (@BSonnone) December 17, 2023

Down the stretch, FSU has still had to stave off the efforts of the other two schools pursuing Bolden.

All three schools have sent their head coaches to see Bolden in recent weeks. As for visits, he was at Auburn a couple of weeks ago for an unofficial visit and made his way to Syracuse this past weekend, alongside close friend and major Syracuse target, edge KingJoseph Edwards. Bolden has a long-time relationship with new Syracuse head coach Fran Brown, from his time as an assistant at Georgia.

As for FSU, Bolden has built a strong bond with head coach Mike Norvell, defensive backs coach Patrick Surtain Sr., and more. FSU will look to close out his recruitment with him back in Tallahassee this weekend.

Bolden is ranked by the 247Sports.com Composite Recruiting Rankings as the No. 11 prospect in the nation and top safety in the 2024 class. He is given a grade of .9953.

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A few notes from Auburn football's Sunday practice

Zac Blackerby
~2 minutes

Two young players stood out in Auburn football's Sunday practice.

The Auburn Tigers are using the extra bowl practices to focus on the future and prepare for the Maryland Terps in the Music City Bowl.

While balancing getting ready for the upcoming bowl game, the roster not being complete, and preparing for the future, there's a lot to take into account for why things may be the way they are in any particular practice. keep all of this in mind with the notes that I was given per a source within the program Sunday evening.

Incoming freshman Demarcus Riddick turned heads early. Apparently, he is playing very fast very early into his time on the Plains. The source described his ability to get from Point A to Point B quickly as one of the best on the team already.

Safety Sylvester Smith had a great practice. With Smith being a guy we saw in some of the two deeps during fall earlier this year, the note shouldn't come as a shock. The source was very high on how he played. Jaylin Simpson was limited in practice and Smith took advantage of his reps. 

It sounds like the offensive line featured Tate Johnson at left guard and Jeremiah Wright at right guard for most of the day. 

Auburn takes on Mayland in the Music City Bowl on December 30th in Nashville, Tennessee. 

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Disgraced ex-Auburn football HC may have taken FCS OC job to coach his son

Andrew Hughes
2–3 minutes


Disgraced former Auburn football head coach Bryan Harsin may be making his long-awaited return to the gridiron as a coach: this time, as an offensive coordinator at Idaho State, where son Davis is committed as a quarterback, speculates Auburn Daily's Lance Dawe based on the Boise native's social media activity.

It's unclear what the messaging here is supposed to be, but Bryan Harsin has decided to link his social media to Idaho State football," Dawe prefaced before saying, "Harsin, formerly the head coach at Boise State and Auburn, has updated his Twitter/X profile to link to Idaho State's football page on their website. He now has their football Twitter/X account tagged in his bio and a new profile picture of him wearing Idaho State gear.

"Does Harsin's attachment to ISU on social media mean he's accepted a coaching position with Idaho State? It certainly wouldn't be the head coaching position. Perhaps a role as their offensive coordinator? Hawkins also performs those duties as well."

If it's true that Harsin is going to Idaho State to coach his son in a non-head coaching position, then the 47-year-old would've gone from an SEC head coach in the most football-crazed state in the nation to a coordinator in the Big Sky.

It would also mean that no school will have trusted Harsin with their program following a Plains tenure marked by scandal and defined by a lack of actually doing a major function of a college football head coaching job: recruiting.

Harsin building his reputation back up to take another coaching job elsewhere may not even be the play here. It could just be that he wants to help maximize his son's talents and get him to Boise State. Maybe a reuinion there would be welcomed for Harsin, but in reality, he could coach his kid and sit on his $15.3 million in buyout money from Auburn while riding into the sunset afterwards.

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Auburn begins TransPerfect Music City Bowl practice

Auburn University Athletics
7–9 minutes

AUBURN, Ala.  Two weeks before they take on Maryland in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the Auburn Tigers practiced Saturday, suiting up for the first time since the Iron Bowl three weeks earlier.

"I'm excited to start practice today," Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said. "I've missed our kids and seeing them around. That's always a good thing that we have put ourselves in position to get extra practices in. We're playing a very good opponent. It's going to be a great challenge for us."

Auburn will be without a trio of defensive standouts in the bowl game, lineman Marcus Harris and cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James, who are opting out to begin preparing for the NFL Draft.

"I just told these young guys they're going to get thrown in there," Freeze said. "It'll be fun to watch them. You're going to get those young corners, for sure. It'll be good to see how they prepare for a game and then go play a very talented football team."

Auburn's 2024 defense received a double dose of good news this week when defensive back Keionte Scott and linebacker Eugene Asante, whose 84 tackles are 36 more than his next closest teammate, announced they will remain on the Plains for their senior seasons.

"I'm really glad that people like Keionte and Eugene are coming back to help lead us," Freeze said. "I think they'll be great for these young kids since they are two of our great leaders and captain-material guys. They can help set the culture for our defense next year, so I'm thrilled that they're back."

Juggling bowl practice, recruiting and the roster management that comes with the transfer portal era requires coaches to be master multitaskers.

"It's very challenging," Freeze said. "The calendar has got to be looked at and changed somehow, someway for sanity and for what's good for our sport."

The Tigers will continue to practice on campus before taking a break for the holidays, wrapping up on Friday, Dec. 22, two days after Auburn signs the bulk of its 2024 high school recruiting class next Wednesday.

"I like the effort that we've put in to building relationships and to being thorough," Freeze said. "I feel like we're signing a really solid class for our first class here. There are always a few missing pieces that you'd like to have a few more of. But there is no doubt that if we get to the finish line with the kids we think we're going to get, we've improved ourselves."

Auburn will prioritize high school players in recruiting, then plug in those missing pieces with portal transfers, Freeze says, hoping to create a championship culture.

"I'm going to try the high school formula with needs from the portal," Freeze said. "We would really love to build it like that and get a relationship with kids and their families and try to hold on to them at Auburn and get Auburn to love them and them to love Auburn. I'm just hopeful that there's a group of guys that we can convince to do that."

The Tigers and Terrapins meet at Nashville's Nissan Stadium on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. CT on ABC and the Auburn Sports Network.

AUBURN, AL - December 16, 2023 - Auburn Head Coach Hugh Freeze speaks to the media during a press conference at the Woltosz Football Performance Center in Auburn, AL.Photo by Austin Perryman Hugh Freeze's recruiting philosophy: 'Get Auburn to love them and them to love Auburn.'

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

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i am surprised there is not more info and articles out today.

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Jason Caldwells Monday morning quarterback column

Jason Caldwell

7–9 minutes

Talking Auburn basketball, Auburn football, Auburn football recruiting.

Auburn basketball continues to amaze

I don’t know how this season will wind up playing out for Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers, but I know one thing. There has never been nor will there ever be a better job at Auburn than the one that Pearl and his staff have done over the years in making Auburn basketball not only a winner, but also a destination event for fans and recruits.

For years and years and years, Auburn was able to have good crowds for the Alabama and Kentucky games and that was about it. Sure, there were a few years in the Cliff Ellis era where fans showed up in droves, but with no school in session and a Sunday noon tip, what we saw for the USC game was really remarkable.

Students were lined up at 5 a.m. to get into the game and by mid-morning there were lines around Neville Arena. Those are the things that Pearl brought early in his tenure and it has now turned into the place to be when Auburn has a game. 

Along the way, the students and fans at Neville Arena have made it one of the toughest places to play in the country. The noise and atmosphere has a lot to do with that, but Auburn has also been pretty darn good on the court as well.

This year’s team is going to have some dry spells along the way, but if they can continue to play with the energy we’ve seen the last few weeks and knock down some shots, this team is going to be a tough out in the postseason.

Young OL prospects showing out in bowl practices

Auburn will lose Gunner Britton, Kam Stutts, Avery Jones and Jalil Irvin after this season, but the offensive line is still in really good shape as the Tigers try to finish off the year and head into the 2024 season. The Tigers would still like to add a couple of pieces prior to next year, but there are several young guys that have already shown flashes through a few days of bowl practices. 

The first of those is true freshman tackle Tyler Johnson. Listed at 6-6, 304, Johnson has continued to get bigger and stronger since arriving on campus in early June. He’s now around 315 and is a player that Auburn believes could play at 325 before he’s done. Working at left tackle in bowl practices, he’s a player that will have a chance to get some valuable reps the next few weeks and could see time at the position in the bowl game.

Northwestern transfer Dylan Senda is also showing some good things in bowl prep after coming to Auburn just days into fall camp. Essentially signed as part of the 2024 class after making such a late move, Senda is another guy the Tigers feel has a bright future as part of a line with guys like Johnson, Connor Lew, E.J. Harris and others. 

But, it’s a position group that needs to continue to be built from the ground up. This is a staff that is committed to doing that. With a commitment from 4-star DeAndre Carter and junior college tackle Seth Wilfred and also hoping to add Coen Echols, Auburn is continuing to push on the offensive line heading into what is a strong 2025 group of prospects.

Huge week ahead

We’re 48 hours away from what could be a huge day for Hugh Freeze and the Auburn Tigers in their first full class on the Plains. Currently 11th overall in the 2024 class rankings and ninth in average star rating, Auburn has done some serious work and as long as all those guys finish it off by signing on Wednesday, they’ve already done an incredible job.

But, there’s the potential for a whole lot more with several top players still looking at the Tigers. That includes 5-star defensive lineman L.J. McCray, 5-star K.J. Bolden, 4-star Amaris Williams and 4-star Coen Echols. Adding a couple of those would push the Tigers into the Top 10 and potentially even the Top 5. With 5-star Ryan Williams reclassifying and still looking at the Tigers as well and planning to sign in February, this is a class that could change the face of the Auburn program if things finish with a bang.

Auburn transfer impact: DT Gage Keys

Keys is an intriguing transfer pickup in terms of his history

If Auburn’s new defensive line transfer from Kansas works out anywhere near as well as the last one, the Tigers will be in good shape.

Auburn didn’t let Gage Keys leave his visit without a commitment, as the defensive tackle became the Tigers’ second transfer addition of the cycle — on the last day of visits for a few weeks, as the dead period began Monday. Auburn’s staff was quick to jump on Keys when he entered the portal Friday, and he was on campus for his visit the very next day.

“I’d say probably about halfway through the first day I knew that this is somewhere I needed to be,” Keys said. “The scheme was going to put me in positions to make a lot of plays and I knew I could be very successful here."

Keys is an intriguing transfer pickup in terms of his history. A 3-star recruit from Ohio, he began his college career at Minnesota, where he didn’t take a single defensive snap in two seasons. Kansas picked him up ahead of the 2022 season, and he still wasn’t a major factor in the D-line rotation, contributing just three tackles and playing fewer than 100 snaps on the year.

This season, though, Keys’ impact grew significantly, as he appeared in every game and was third on the team in QB pressures, despite not starting a single game and playing the seventh-most snaps of any player on Kansas’ defensive front.

With the departure of three-year starter Marcus Harris — also a former Kansas transfer — to the NFL, the Tigers are in desperate need of some depth at defensive tackle, and Keys won’t be the last player they pursue in the portal to mend that issue.

Here’s a look at the way-too-early early depth chart impact for Keys, plus a glance at who else Auburn has at defensive tackle and end for 2024 at the moment.

Seniors: Gage Keys (RS), Zykeivous Walker (RS)

Juniors: N/A

Sophomores: Keldric Faulk

Freshmen: Darron Reed Jr. (RS), Malik Blocton, Dimitry Nicolas

Way-too-early depth chart

Defensive tackle: Gage Keys, Darron Reed Jr.

Defensive end: Keldric Faulk, Zykeivous Walker

Nose tackle: Justin Rogers, Jayson Jones

Auburn’s interest level in Keys certainly was not based on production. Second-year defensive line coach Jeremy Garrett liked Keys’ frame and athleticism — particularly his speed coming off the ball from an interior defensive tackle spot.

In terms of where he fits with the Tigers, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Keys played 85 percent of his snaps this season lined up as a 3-tech defensive tackle, which is where Auburn has its biggest need in 2024, with both Harris and Lawrence Johnson gone.

Kansas was ready to lean on Keys as a pillar of its defense in 2024, and one look at his tape shows why. There were plenty of moments where Big 12 offensive lines had trouble slowing him down, with a combination of strength and a quick first step off the line of scrimmage.

Keys is entering his fifth college season, so even without a ton of production, Auburn will hope he’s able to provide a veteran presence alongside a few youngsters on the defensive front. Auburn certainly believes that in the right scheme and with an increased role, Keys can thrive and be an SEC-caliber player. He’ll get his opportunity to show that’s the case, as it will likely take his best season yet to consistently get on the field as a Tiger.

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