Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#20 Auburn Tigers

The Auburn Tigers came into the 2011 Season as the defending BCS Champions and finished a disappointing 8-5. Auburn's losses were all by double digits and in embarrassing fashion. Many fans took out their frustrations on departed Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof whose defense ranked 81st in the NCAA in Total Defense. Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn also departed from the program to become the head coach of Arkansas State. While Gene Chizik isn't officially on the hot seat just yet, another 8-5 season will make Auburn  fans wonder if the 14-0 season was a once in a lifetime run.

New Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder has a track record of improving defenses. He will have a defensive unit that will feature 10 returning starters and a lot of experience. Departed Safety Neiko Thorpe was quite a ball hawk but Sophomore Enrique Florence is more than capable of filling his shoes. Defensive End Corey Lemonier will anchor a great defensive line but unless they improve on their sacks and tackling it could be another long year for the defense.

Scot Loeffler replaces Guz Malzahn at Offensive Coordinator and brings a more pro-style set to Auburn. The Tigers spent most of last year with Barrett Trotter at Quarterback before going to a combination of Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier. Trotter came back to start in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and lead the Tigers to a 43-24 victory over Virginia. The Tigers will hold a Quarterback competition in fall camp between Moseley, Frazier and true Freshman Zeke Pike. Many Auburn fans feel that Pike is a young Cam Newton who will need to adjust his game to the college level. All Quarterbacks spent time with the first unit during the Michael Dyer had off the field issues causing him to miss the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and eventually transfer to Arkansas State. Tre Mason and Onterrio McCalebb stepped into Running Back role for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and looked very impressive. Alabama transfer Corey Grant looks to battle Mason and McCalebb for some playing time after sitting out a year due to transferring. The Wide Receiver corps will be led by Trovon Reed and Emory Blake.

Auburn's schedule is a manageable one and is best divided up into three four game seasons.  The opener against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff will go a long way in telling how far the defense has come. They will then travel to Starkville to play a tough Mississippi State squad before hosting UL-Monroe on September 15th. LSU comes to town the following week in what should be the second loss of the season for Auburn. The second four game stretch follows that can either propel this into a special season or send it into a tailspin. After playing a talented Vanderbilt team, Auburn must navigate three trap games at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt and then home for Texas A&M. The final four games of the season will feature two cupcakes and the two teams favored to meet in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. If Auburn can correct their defensive problems and find an offensive identity, they could easily go 9-3. But if they fail to improve from last year it could be a long, long season for the Tigers. My final prediction is that they will go 7-5.

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