GOAT: Bo Jackson (RB)
Key Losses: Cam Newton (QB), Nick Fairley (DT), Lee Ziemba (OT) and 13!! other starters.
Key Additions: Christian Westerman (OT), Reese Dismukes (C), Kiehl Frazier (QB).
2010 was a dream season for the Auburn faithful.
Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn shocked the college football nation by going undefeated and winning the school’s 2nd National Title (1957 was the first). Cam Newton earned his paycheck scholarship more than anyone has ever earned one. The one-year wonder put up perhaps the best season of any SEC quarterback, finishing with a team-high 1,473 yards rushing (20 TDs) and 2,850 yards passing (30 TDs) en route to a Heisman Trophy. Go ahead and read those numbers one more time. They’re that insane.
While the NCAA tries as hard as it can to expose Auburn for their perceived cheating, until the hammer comes down the 2010 Auburn Tiger team will be one of the more remarkable in college football history. A (much-maligned) second-year coach went from a pedestrian 8-5 record to an undefeated 14-0 Title-winning team. It’s an astonishing feat, especially considering that the 8-5 year Chizik put up in 2009 was 3 more wins than he had as a head coach before getting to Auburn.
What will year-three bring for Auburn? Loads of uncertainty and a beastly schedule. Remember all of those home games that Auburn played in last year? Gone. Road games with Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia are on the menu and a date with a pissed off Alabama team closes out the season at home. If Chizik and Co. win more than 7 games it might end up being a more impressive feat than what he did in year-two. Seriously.
The 2011 Auburn Tigers team will look almost nothing like that of its predecessor. The Tigers lose 8 starters from 2010, including losses of Newton, Darvin Adams, Mario Fannin and four starting offensive linemen. The latter being perhaps the scariest of the losses. For all of the hype Newton (deservedly) received, the offensive line was what won the Tigers the 2010 championship. It was a beastly group of dudes who took no prisoners from day one.
The wide receivers are always something of an afterthought in a Malzahn offense, and last year was no exception. Adams had a nice season, but frankly, any half-way decent receiver would have in a system that included Newton and that offensive line. His 963 yards are more replaceable than he must have thought as he left early and went undrafted (28 WRs were taken). Also gone is the team’s 2nd leading receiver Terrell Zachery (43, 605, 4). Both players are most definitely replaceable.
The two bright spots on offense for Auburn will be the returning duo of Michael Dyer (AU freshmen record 1,093 yards rushing) and Ontario McCalebb (810 yards and 9 TDs). Dyer is the more complete back who runs with power and speed, while McCalebb is lighting quick to the edge. The real question for Auburn will be how with those two handle being the focal point of the offense now that Newton is in the NFL. When the threat of Newton running the rock is gone, all eyes can focus on the jet sweep to McCalebb or the zone read to Dyer.
The offensive line is perhaps the biggest question for the Tigers. True freshmen Reese Dismukes is expected to start the moment he hits the campus and look for uber-recruit Christian Westerman to get a look at tackle early on. There will be at least two freshman playing on the line at all times throughout the season for Auburn, a stark contrast from playing four seniors at all times a year ago.
Playing behind the newly constructed line will most likely be junior Barrett Trotter (at least in the beginning). Trotter threw the ball a whopping 9 times in 2010 while toting the rock another 5 times. Needless to say, he’s a question mark. Auburn did bring in who they hope will be Cam Newton 2.0 in Kiehl Frazier. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound dual-threat star will be on the minds of most Auburn fans the moment Trotter short-hops a ball on a bubble screen. Malzahn will hope that Trotter can handle being the starter in the SEC, but if he can’t, look for Frazier to get a baptism by fire in 2011. It’s never good to start a true freshmen quarterback in the SEC, and it’s even worse to do it against a road slate like the one Auburn will deal with. However, any playing time Frazier sees in 2011 will pay dividends for the Tigers in 2012, and with last season’s National Championship, Chizik has a few years to play with before the natives get restless.
The Tigers had one of the most dynamic defensive players in college football in DT Nick Fairley. The dude blew up pretty much any offensive line he faced (just ask Georgia, Alabama or Oregon). What made Fairley even more impressive was that he knew if he didn’t get to the quarterback the Auburn secondary would get lit up like a Christmas tree. Any wide receiver worth a damn had a field day toying with the back four of the Tigers. Three starters are gone from that unit, but as bad as they were, no one really knows if that’s a bad thing or not. I would say that it is, as the players behind them weren’t good enough to beat them out, but the Auburn fan would tell you defensive coordinator Ted Roof played experience over talent too often. Freshman cornerback Jonathan Rose will likely start opposite T’Sharvan Bell (junior) while Neiko Thorpe returns as the lone starter opposite Demetruce McNeal (sophomore) as the two safeties.
The defensive line will miss Fairley, but they’ll also miss the underrated Antoine Carter as the team’s best rush end. Nosa Eguae returns as the lone starter alongside DTs Kenneth Carter, Jeffrey Whittaker and rush end Corey Lemonier. The entire projected starting lineup for Auburn’s front four will be sophomores.
The linebackers will have two new faces as Jonathan Evans (WLB) and Jake Holland (MLB) take over for the departed Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes. Darren Bates is the lone returning starter and the team’s second leading returning tackler. All total the Tigers lost 6 of their top 7 tacklers. 2011 may look a lot like 2009 for the Auburn Tigers. If this team can get to 8 wins it might change my opinion on Chizik. As it stands now I think he’s a better recruiting Larry Coker. 8 (regular season) wins this year will force me to re-evaluate my stance.
Wes Bynum is (finally) gone after his seemingly decade-long run as the Tigers’ placekicker. Bynum was nothing if not consistent at Auburn, finishing 2010 72/73 on PATs and 17/22 on FGs. Steven Clark will replace Ryan Shoemaker as punter. Shoemaker only punted the ball 32 times in 2010. McCalebb returns as a dangerous KO man (28.4 average in 2010) and Quindarius Carr will once again handle punt returns, though his 5.7 average was kind of crappy.
*I’ve put this ridiculously insane 4-game stretch in bold to point out it’s absurdity.