4-star defensive end Justin Thornton looks to be a major Florida lean, but is there a chance that the Auburn Tigers and head coach Guz Malzahn can shake things up?
As red-hot as the Tigers have been on the recruiting trail since Malzahn took over, they'll always have a chance with elite recruits, but frankly, it would take a major upset for them to overtake Florida in this recruiting race.
The Gators received quite a substantial boost with Thornton after a recent unofficial visit, according to Blake Alderman of InsidetheGators.com (pay article), and Florida is firmly in the lead for Thornton's commitment:
Florida was already the leader for the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Alabama native heading into the trip. At the conclusion of his visit Thornton said the Gators might have widened the gap a little more.
"After what I saw yesterday [Saturday] I love the BUCK position," Thornton explained. "I would rush the passer hand in the dirt or I could be standing up and dropping back into coverage. Florida is still my favorite by a lot."
I mentioned Auburn being hot on the recruiting trail, but I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Will Muschamp and the Gators are just as hyped-up right now—especially defensively.
Florida finished with the No. 4 overall 2013 recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, and it's a class that has the talent to be elite defensively. The Gators were able to sign marquee defensive recruits, such as 5-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, 4-star safety Marcell Harris, 4-star defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and 4-star outside linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian.
Florida boasts a defense that was already very good, but with the addition of the 2013 class, it very well could be elite in the next few seasons. For an elite defensive end recruit like Thornton, that has to be a major draw. He also grew up as a Florida fan, according to Alderman's report.
Still just a junior, Thornton is 6'5'' and 222 pounds, so he has great size. He's also ranked as the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the 2014 class (247Sports Composite), so he obviously has a ton of potential.
All of that said, Thornton has not made a commitment to Florida just yet, and he's going to take an unofficial visit to Auburn next weekend, per Alderman's report.
With the way the Tigers finished the 2013 recruiting cycle (landing 5-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams, flipping 4-star defensive end Elijah Daniel from Ole Miss and holding on to 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson's commitment), the future of Auburn's defense could rival that of Florida's.
Malzahn looks to be the right guy for the head coaching job, and he's instilled a sense of direction and excitement back into the program. Auburn football will be back and competitive soon enough, so the Tigers do have a lot to offer Thornton. Consider also the fact that Thornton is from Mobile, Alabama, and the Tigers may be able to leverage some "home-state advantage" with the 4-star defensive end.
When all is said and done, it's hard to ignore the major edge that Florida has with Thornton. The Gators seem to have made a huge impression with him, and for all intents and purposes, they should be considered the heavy favorites to land his commitment. That said, it's also hard to count Auburn out, and the Tigers could very well shake things up during this upcoming unofficial visit.
Does Auburn have a chance to overcome Florida for Thornton?
Yes, albeit a small one.
Note: Florida State, South Carolina and USC are all also listed as "warm interests" on Thornton's 247Sports interest list. He's going to wait until August to make a commitment, according to Alderman's report.