CFN Preview 2013 - Auburn Tigers
Posted May 10, 2013 2013 Preview - Auburn Tigers

Auburn Tigers

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gus Malzahn
1st year
2nd year overall: 10-3
Ten Best Auburn Players
1. DE Dee Ford, Sr.
2. RB Tre Mason, Jr.
3. C Reese Dismukes, Jr.
4. CB Chris Davis, Jr.
5. S Demetruce McNeal, Sr.
6. DT Angelo Blackson, Jr.
7. OT Greg Robinson, Soph.
8. DT Gabe Wright, Jr.
9. LB Jake Holland, Sr.
10. TE Brandon Fulse, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Washington State
9/7 Arkansas State
9/14 Mississippi State
9/21 at LSU
10/5 Ole Miss
10/12 Western Carolina
10/19 at Texas A&M
10/26 Florida Atlantic
11/2 at Arkansas
11/9 at Tennessee
11/16 Georgia
11/30 Alabama
You'd find more Auburn fans at a Selena Roberts Fan Club meeting than people who believe Gene Chizik caught a bad break last season, but upon further review, as miserable as last season was just two years removed from a national championship, there was a reason.

Here's how the college football world works. If the 2012 Auburn Tigers were in any other conference in America, they probably find a way to go 6-6, get to a bowl and Chizik is still the head coach. But this is the SEC, and this is the SEC West, and Auburn couldn't get its head above water against the brutal schedule.

Really, look at what last year's Auburn team had to deal with.

The Tigers started out the year against Clemson, battling the team that eventually beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in a 26-19 loss. Losing to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas by double digits is hard to sell, but all three games were on the road – you can't fault losing an SEC road game to anyone but Kentucky. At the time, the 17-13 loss to Vanderbilt looked worse than it actually was, and that was on the road, too.

The four other losses? LSU in a 12-10 uggo, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. Even in the brutal blowouts there's no shame in losing to four national title-level teams, but the Tigers are supposed to be one of those teams. Auburn is supposed to be above the excuse loss, and it's certainly not supposed to lose to Georgia and Alabama by a combined score of 87-0.

Okay, so the three wins came in overtime against ULM and against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M, and no, losing to Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State by a combined score of 93-37 wasn't acceptable.

And now Auburn is in a strange spot. The 2010 lightning-in-a-bottle, Cam Newton season was supposed to be a jumping off point rather than an aberration, and in a way it was. Chizik and his staff did an excellent job of recruiting finishing second in the 2011 rankings and eighth in 2012. Even last year, after the awful, awful year, and with all the turmoil on and off the field, Auburn still came up with the 14th-ranked recruiting class. The talent is coming in, but as Chizik's tenure proved, having good prospects isn't enough. Everyone in the SEC gets great recruits, and in the West, Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M get better ones.

But with the talent on the Tigers over the last few years, and going into this season, there's enough to be good enough to get back to a bowl and beat one of the big boys along the way, and while that might not be where Auburn fans would like things to be after knowing what a BCS championship tastes like, after last year, anything positive would be accepted.

It might have been a step back to take a giant leap forward if new head coach and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn turns into a star. He's going to make the nation's 115th-ranked offense far, far more productive and interesting, while defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson should be able to ramp up the pressure and production for a defense that was a complete and utter disaster at times.

There's experience, talent and athleticism on both sides of the ball, and now the new coaching staff has to show it can do something with it all. 2011 was supposed to be a rebuilding year, 2012 was a strange failure, and now it's time to start being a part of the fun again.

What to watch for on offense: Fast, fast, fast, fast, fast. The Auburn offense moved well when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator, and the Arkansas State attack came up with a great tempo and lots of production, but if everything goes according to plan, things are going to move at warp speed. Malzahn wants Oregon pace but with more balance and power, and he just might get it. While it could be a little while before everyone figures out their roles, the tempo could be a plus in a don't-think-just-throw way for the ultra-talented receiving corps and great offensive line that couldn't seem to generate any sort of consistent production. The quarterback situation worked itself out with Nick Marshall taking over, and the running game will be fine, but the X factor will be how quickly everyone can pick up on what's about to happen. The tempo could be a big neutralizer.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-2-5. The talent and athleticism are all there, and now the scheme might be, too. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wants more production from the painfully underachieving front four, and he needs more production from a secondary that got ripped apart on a regular basis. To start changing up the momentum after so many problems last year, there's going to be a hybrid Star position, which Auburn has always sort of used in some way, but now will be more obvious about it. The back seven is going to be even more athletic than normal and it needs to be more disruptive.

The team will be far better if … the defense can start forcing more turnovers. The D came up with 11 fumbles, and it's no coincidence that two came in a close, ugly loss to LSU, three came in the close loss to Vanderbilt, and two came in the win over New Mexico State. There were just four fumble recoveries in the other nine games. So the secondary picked up the slack to change around games, right? Two. That's how many interceptions the Tigers came up with. One came from linebacker Daren Bates in the opener against Clemson, and the other was a pick six from safety Trent Fisher in the light scrimmage against Alabama A&M.

The schedule: The first part of the season won't be without its share of storylines. Gus Malzahn's Tigers need to gear up for a wild shootout with Washington State to kick things off, and then comes a showdown against his old team, Arkansas State, that's good enough to pull off the road upset. And then comes the SEC schedule with Mississippi State coming to Jordan-Hare before going to LSU. If they can at least get a split, with a week off to prepare for Ole Miss and with Western Carolina to follow, 5-1 isn't a crazy dream.

Going to Texas A&M won't be a fun way to kick off a run of three road games in four weeks, but the home game is a layup against Florida Atlantic and dates at Arkansas and Tennessee are winnable. However, being bowl eligible by mid-November could be a must with Georgia and Alabama – with a week off in between ��� to close out the regular season.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Tre Mason. The hope is for one of the quarterbacks to rise up and become a star, and a few of the offensive linemen – center Reese Dismukes, left tackle Greg Robinson and right tackle Patrick Miller – could be all-stars, but it's Mason who needs to be an even bigger factor after coming up with 1,002 yards and eight scores. He showed he could handle the ball 20 times a game, and at times he was one of the team's only positives with 106 yards against Clemson, but his two other 100-yard games came against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. He's not a big-time star, but he's going to carry the load for a while.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Dee Ford. It was Corey Lemonier who got all the praise and attention, but Ford grew into just as important a force on the end came up with 34 tackles with six sacks. While he's not huge, built like a linebacker, he's decent against the run and he's fast off the ball. Yes, three of his sacks came in the lightweight games against Alabama A&M and New Mexico State, but he showed enough burst and talent to grow into the guy the rest of the line works around.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Nick Marshall. And throw in recruit Jeremy Johnson in the mix. Everything else can work for the Tigers, but there's no hope of an improved season without a bigger year from the quarterbacks. Nick Marshall separated himself from the pack and now he has to do more than just produce; he has to thrive. In a division with Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, Tyler Russell and A.J. McCarron, Auburn needs to have a playmaker who can start stretching the field a bit more. A Gus Malazhn offense can't be 94th in the nation in passing efficiency.

The season will be a success if … Auburn wins eight games. By showing up the season should be better with Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic all must wins providing a nice base. With the two Mississippi schools from the West at home to go along with winnable road games against Arkansas and Tennessee, getting to seven regular season wins isn't a lot to ask for before trying to set the tone for 2014 with a bowl victory.

Key game: August 31 vs. Washington State. Take your pick of SEC games as being the most important, and beating Mississippi State in mid-September is a must after going 0-8 in conference play, but after last year, Auburn needs to just get a win over a BCS conference team again. A loss against the Cougars to kick things off would be completely and utterly disastrous.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Punt Returns: Auburn 18 for 161 yards – Opponents 5 for 4 yards
- Sacks: Opponents 37 for 238 yards – Auburn 22 for 137 yards
- Penalties: Auburn 75 for 601 yards – Opponents 51 for 410 yards
- 2013 Auburn Preview | 2013 Auburn Offense
- 2013 Auburn Defense | 2013 Auburn Depth Chart