2011 Auburn Preview
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
Posted Jul 14, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Auburn Tigers

Auburn Tigers

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gene Chizik
3rd year: 22-5
5th year overall: 27-24
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 13, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 31
Ten Best Auburn Players
1. RB Michael Dyer, Soph.
2. TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, Jr.
3. RB Onterrio McCalebb, Jr.
4. OT Brandon Mosley, Sr.
5. DE Nosa Eguae, Soph.
6. DT Kenneth Carter, Soph.
7. DE Corey Lemonier, Soph.
8. OT Christian Westerman, Fr.
9. LB Eltoro Freeman, Sr.
10. OT A.J. Green, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Utah State
Sep. 10 Mississippi State
Sep. 17 at Clemson
Sep. 24 Florida Atlantic
Oct. 1 at South Carolina
Oct. 8 at Arkansas
Oct. 15 Florida
Oct. 22 at LSU
Oct. 29 Ole Miss
Nov. 12 at Georgia
Nov. 19 Samford
Nov. 26 Alabama

What the heck just happened?

Auburn was supposed to be pretty good last year, but you're flat-out lying if you could've seen any of the following: a 14-0 SEC title campaign, a national championship, the greatest single season performance by a quarterback in college football history, a Heisman, a best-lineman-in-America effort from a decent defensive tackle prospect, and Gene Chizik - GENE CHIZIK - holding up the crystal egg thing in Glendale.

Go back for a moment and realize just how fast and just how unbelievable the rise was from good to special, and remember, Alabama was coming off a national title season and the talk was about whether or not Auburn could keep up in the arms race. A national championship?! The hope was to try to finish in the top two of the SEC West.

Even as late as mid-October, no one had Auburn on the national title radar. The Tigers should've lost to Clemson in the third week of the season, getting a mega-break with a missed 32-yard field goal after getting played to a dead-even standstill. They got pushed way too hard by Kentucky, sneaking by in a 37-34 win. They knocked Ryan Mallett out of the Arkansas game, and they were handed a gift from the gods when Steve Spurrier took out QB Stephen Garcia after a few fumbles in a 35-27 win over South Carolina. Even at 7-0, Auburn looked good, but it wasn't obviously national title-good.

440 rushing yards against LSU later, and it was game on.

Cam Newton was a hot prospect coming out of spring ball, and there were rumblings that he'd be terrific, but remember, it was Denard Robinson's Heisman after the first half of the season. Auburn's first half of the season was great, and then Newton became the story of the 2010 college football season with his epic performances. After all the hullabaloo and all the craziness, finally, the program that had been knocking on the door for so long came up with one of the most improbable seasons and most improbable championships ever.

Okay, okay, okay, so it all might be seen historically like Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs instead of the Kurt Warner-led 1999 St. Louis Rams that came from out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl, and Auburn got an inexplicably favorable break by the NCAA in the Newton ruling, but still, the team had to get through ten games against bowl teams – counting South Carolina twice – came up with a jaw-dropping comeback against Alabama when everything appeared to be slipping away, and overcame all the drama and all the media scrutiny to pull it all off. However the 2010 Auburn Tigers were put together, and whether or not you want to believe it was all for real, it happened, they won the national title, Newton got the Heisman, and nothing can take any of that away now, even if the NCAA is still sniffing around the Newton era.

But as improbable as last season might have been, it might even be more of a shocker if Auburn finishes in the top three in its own division this year.

Not only are Newton and Nick Fairley gone, but the Tigers have to replace eight starters on both sides of the ball as well as the kickers. The shelves were restocked with one of the nation's best recruiting classes, but it's asking a lot in an improved conference for a slew of true freshman to make up for the loss of so much national title-talent and so much leadership. Even if the players are in place to do big things, you only get Cam Newton once and no one gets two magical years in a row in the SEC.

The Tigers will hardly be bad, but after getting most of the tough games last year at home, they have to go on the road to face Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia, to go along with home dates against Mississippi State, Florida, and Alabama.

Forgetting about replacing Newton, Auburn has to hope for the offensive line to jell in a hurry, it needs playmakers to emerge at receiver, and it needs the defense to undergo an overhaul after being awful against the pass. The punting game that was last in the SEC could use a boost, too.

Despite the controversy that continues to hang around the program – Stanley McClover, your table is ready – it's full steam ahead. There's plenty of young talent to get excited about, Gus Malzahn is still the offensive coordinator, and now the program gets the break of being a defending national champion that can honestly be motivated by the "no one believes in us" cliché.

No one believes in you, Auburn. Again.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Barrett Trotter was expected to be more than fine, and then No. 2 came along and stole the show. Now Trotter goes from being a strong prospect to the guy who has to do the impossible, but he gets a huge break with the return of Gus Malzahn, who's getting paid extremely well to stick around for the foreseeable future. The Malzahn offense has put up big numbers everywhere he's been, and while he's not going to get the running production out of Trotter he enjoyed with Newton, the passing game should still be efficient and dangerous. Freshman Clint Moseley will also get a long look but he, like Trotter, didn't exactly set the world on fire this offseason. True freshman Kiehl Frazier is on the way to provide a huge push.

What to watch for on defense: The pass defense. Defense wins championships … whatever. Auburn won the national title despite getting picked clean by anyone who could throw the ball overhand. The pass defense gave up an SEC-worst 259 yards per game, allowing 25 touchdown passes and getting lit up by Oregon's Darron Thomas, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Alabama's Greg McElroy, and just about everyone else on the slate. Like everywhere else on the 2010 Tigers, the secondary needs to undergo a talent overhaul, but free safety Neiko Thorpe is a decent veteran and there are several versatile defensive backs to fill out the other three spots. On the plus side, the secondary can't be worse.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line quickly jells. Every unit on the 2011 Tigers needs work and will be in the spotlight, but the defense will have more than enough athletes to get by, and the offensive skill players will be more than fine with Michael Dyer and the running backs able to carry the load. The key, though, is a line that did a great job of opening up just enough holes for Cam Newton to glide through, but now has to do far, far more in pass protection. The Tigers allowed 23 sacks, and it would've been a lot more but Newton needed ten guys to get him down; he saved a ton of sacks by simply being big enough to flick defenders off his shoulder. A.J. Greene was hurt last season with a broken ankle and started only three games, but he's healthy enough to provide an anchor at one tackle, and the rest of the line is big and talented with stars from the recruiting class in tackle Christian Westerman and center Reese Dismukes. It'll get the Utah State game to come together, and then it's Game On against Mississippi State in the SEC opener.

The schedule: It's not like the defending national champions got a whole slew of scheduling breaks last year, but most of the big games were at home until the classic Iron Bowl at Bama to close out the regular season. This year it's payback time for a lot of teams with road games at South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia to all but eliminate any dreams of playing for a second championship. Throw in the SEC opener against a strong Mississippi State team and a battle at Clemson in what should be one of the most entertaining non-conference games of the SEC season, and it'll be a fight to simply get to the end of September clean. October doesn't get much better as Auburn, starting with the game at Clemson, goes on a run of four road games in six weeks with one of the home games coming against Florida and with the date in Death Valley (the LSU version) to end the first half of the season. The Tigers get an unfair draw in interdivisional play missing Vanderbilt and Kentucky and getting Florida and road trips to Georgia and South Carolina, but the season finishes up with Samford and Alabama at home.

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Michael Dyer. Cam Newton wasn't awful in the BCS Championship, but he wasn't quite Cam Newton. When push came to shove and the Tigers needed to go on a march to take the national championship, it was Dyer, a true freshman, who did the pushing and shoving, finishing with 143 yards on 22 bruising carries. The superstar recruit of last year won't have to carry the whole workload, but after handling the ball 182 times for 1,093, yards and five scores, he might have to be the workhorse.

Best defensive player: Sophomore DE Nosa Eguae. There's a chance the tackles could turn out to be the biggest defensive stars right away, with Ken Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker two talented sophomores who should gum up the works, while star recruit Gabe Wright is a superstar in the making. For now, though, it's Eguae who needs to be the brightest star after emerging late last year. A pure pass rusher and a playmaker in the backfield, he was great in the SEC Championship and camped out in the backfield at times over the second half of the year. While he wasn't necessarily one of the new wave types of top recruits that Gene Chizik is bringing in, he's now on the verge of blowing up.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore PK Cody Parkey. Auburn won five games, including the BCS Championship, by three points or fewer. In those five games against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, and Oregon, Wes Byrum was 8-of-9 with the lone miss coming from 37 yards out against Mississippi State in the beginning of the year. He came through in overtime against Clemson, he hit the game-winner against the Ducks, and he was 3-for-3 in the win over Kentucky. Parkey, arguably the nation's top kicker recruit last year, has a big leg and was used on kickoffs, and while he might have more range than Byrum, he has to prove he can be as clutch. He'll get several chances.

The season will be a success if … it wins nine games. That's setting the bar way, way high for a team with so much turnover and so many concerns, but the talent and athleticism are still there to beat Utah State, Mississippi State, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, and Samford for a nice base of five wins. There should be an upset here – against a Clemson or a Georgia – and a big victory there - maybe against an LSU or a Florida – to get within range of a double-digit season, and it'll take a bowl win to come up with a reasonable final record.

Key game: September 10th vs. Mississippi State. EVERYONE is on the MSU bandwagon. The Bulldogs pushed Auburn in a 17-14 game last season, and Dan Mullen's team is better this year. Of course the Alabama game is the one that matters, and obviously beating Arkansas and/or LSU would be huge, but the tone for the season could be set with an SEC win at home before going off to Clemson. The last thing the Tigers want is to be 0-1 in conference play and have to deal with at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, and at LSU to follow.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Auburn 284.8 – Opponents 109.1
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Auburn 128 – Opponents 56
- The crowd of 78,603 in the BCS Championship was the fourth lowest of the season.

- 2011 Auburn Preview | 2011 Auburn Offense
- 2011 Auburn Defense | 2011 Auburn Depth Chart