SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Auburn's Spring
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
CollegeFootballNews
Posted Apr 4, 2011


With spring upon us, we're rolling out analysis from each team's off-season sessions. Check it out as CFN's SEC Bloggers give you five different perspectives on some key questions facing the Tigers this spring. From National Champ to fourth in the West?! Which are the bigger shoes to fill: Cam or Nick? And what position is undergoing the biggest overhaul?

SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Bama's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UT's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On USC's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Hogs' Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On LSU's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UGA's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring


Billy Gomila: On which are the bigger shoes to fill: Cam Newton or Nick Fairley

In a way, there are two different answers to this, because both players were so extremely important in their own right. But from purely individual terms, it's undoubtedly Cam Newton.

With Newton at quarterback, an offense that was effective in 2009 became a 40-point-per-game juggernaut in 2010, even against SEC defenses. Gus Malzahn's attack was already doing a good job, and Newton essentially added an extra two touchdowns per game. Auburn can get excellent play out of the 2011 starter, and still not match what Newton gave them.

From a position standpoint, Fairley's defensive line has a much more radical rebuild coming, especially compared to the offense. Between Malzahn's history at grooming quarterbacks and the help of Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, Auburn should be able to manage a solid passing game. The defensive front not only looses Fairley, but starters Antoine Carter and Zach Clayton as well, plus backups Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc. Essentially the entire two-deep at defensive tackle.

Youngsters Corey Lemonier, Nosa Equae, Jeff Whitacker and Kenneth Carter will have to prove themselves this spring. Highly recruited tackle Gabe Wright will have an excellent shot at cracking the depth chart when he arrives this summer.


Brian Harbach: On from BCS Champions to fourth in the West?!

Auburn fans seem to be oversensitive when you discuss their team going from first in the country to fourth in the West, but isn't it really a compliment? Last year the team that finished fourth in the West (Bama) was 10-3 and in the final Coaches Poll came in at #11. The SEC West has become the premier division in College Football, with five teams ranked in the top 25 at the end of 2010, and three of the last four BCS champions.

So get over the idea that finishing fourth is an insult. Instead, focus on why it is likely to be where Auburn ends up this December.

Not to bore you with details, but Auburn lost the best offensive and defensive player in the SEC to early entry in the NFL. The offensive line lost four senior starters and the defense that was opportunistic a year ago returns three starters...one of which has been moved to a position he has never played before (Neiko Thorpe from corner to safety).

With all these changes and more, it is obvious that Auburn will not be the same team from a year ago. However, there is too much talent to assume they will fall off completely. If fourth in the West is a middle of the pack SEC team this year, that is fair accesment of Auburn today.

Auburn should be competitive in all their games, but today they look like they will be competing for a New Year's Day Bowl instead of a division championship.


Gabe Harris: On who wins the QB derby

For the 6th straight year, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will have to break in a new starter, so a QB derby is nothing new to him. The only difference is this will be the first time he's had to replace a Heisman Trophy winning QB coming off of a national championship. Junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley are the only scholarship QBs on the roster this spring - which itself is a bit of an eye opener. Each has been in the AU program for three years under Malzahn, so there is no shortage of experience in his system - even though that experience is mostly from the practice field.

The wild card in this race is incoming true freshman Kiehl Frazier, but he will not enroll until the fall and Malzahn has said it would be very hard for someone in that situation to win the job. Malzahn has also stated that Trotter and Moseley probably know the offense as well as anyone, and he wants to name a starter by the end of the spring.

Trotter gave Newton a run for his money last spring and looked sharp every time he has been in a game, whether it's A-Day or in the regular season. Moseley has good size and his scout team work has been highly regarded. Trotter and Moseley also have good ability to run, though neither will be running the ball ten or more times a game like Newton.

The amount of practice and game time that Trotter has put in should give him the edge over Moseley this spring. It's his time and he will likely win the job and hold on to it through the fall. And who knows, if Malzahn stays through 2012, he'll finally get to know what it feels like to coach a QB for two years.


Russ Mitchell: On what position is undergoing the biggest overhaul

Gus Malzahn's offense has all the bells and whistles of a high performance sports car beckoning from the sales lot with a reputation for breathtaking speed and superior handling. However, without an engine that car goes nowhere.

For the Tigers, that engine is the offensive line. After Auburn's first spring scrimmage, there are concerns it's just a four cylinder.

Gone are four senior starters who racked up nearly 200 starts together on the Plains. With their departure, Auburnites are left facing some good news/bad news... The good news is that senior with years of starting experience help you win national championships; the bad news is it means the youngsters behind them don't see a lot of playing time.

But it's not all bad news... The Tigers actually return two starters, of a fashion. A.J. Greene was the starting right tackle before losing his season to an ankle injury in game three, and Brandon Mosley replaced him. Both are back. Junior John Sullen also returns with some playing time under his belt.

Moreover, this year's recruiting class had several top-shelf linemen, including one of the nation's top centers (Reese Dismukes) and tackles (Christian Westerman). Dismukes is already on campus and participating in spring drills, and both could end up starting come August.

Though as good as they may be, you're then talking about nearly half of your SEC offensive line depending on the play of true freshmen. That's the kind of thing that'll keep a coordinator up nights.

The good news coming out of the first scrimmage is that despite moving blockers around like it was musical chairs, Auburn's front five showed glimpses of proficiency.

The bad news is that the Tigers' defensive line only returns one starter itself, and thus is also in a state of flux.


Barrett Sallee: On if the recruiting investigations will become a distraction, really

I doubt it.

It obviously didn't bother the Auburn Tigers during the months of November, December and January, and that was when the Cam Newton story was hot and heavy. Since nothing of substance has come to light since then (HBO Real Sports episode notwithstanding), I see no reason why they would become a distraction now.

Will the NCAA look into the allegations in HBO's story? Definitely - and they've already begun. But until coaches and boosters are specifically named, not to mention some actual proof surfaces, it'd be irresponsible to take these four players' stories as gospel.

The NCAA has stated on numerous occasions during the Newton investigation and after it stalled out that it has found no connection to Auburn University. It was, for the most part, a Cecil Newton and Mississippi State issue.

On top of that, Auburn has not received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA. The Newton case remaining open and the story about the NCAA sniffing around Thibodaux, La., are both probably due to the fact that the NCAA is investigating the role of street agents in the recruiting process, which is not an institution-specific investigation.

Auburn had a target on its back unlike any team in recent memory during its 2010 national championship run. Some of it was self-inflicted and some of it was innuendo and rumor. Through all of it, the Tigers prevailed. It didn't become a distraction then, and there's no reason why it should now.

As far as Auburn is concerned, it's a non-issue until (if) it receives word that it's officially being investigated. Rumors are a fact of life for Auburn football players and coaches, and since they haven't lost a game in 16 months, I'd say that they are pretty well-versed on blocking out distractions. It hasn't bothered the Auburn Tigers before, and none of the rumors that have come to light since January 10 make me think that it will start to bother them now.


Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.


SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Bama's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UT's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On USC's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Hogs' Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On LSU's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UGA's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring