Previously: Jackson State
We continue our look at MSU's 2012 football schedule with Week 2 opponent Auburn. It's the SEC opener for State, which has opened league play with the Tigers each of the last four seasons. All of those games were Auburn wins. Going back further, the Bulldogs have lost to Auburn seven consecutive times in SEC openers dating to 2002.
This one is at Davis Wade Stadium, and assuming it takes care of Jackson State the week before, MSU will be going for its first 2-0 start since the 2000 season. This will be Auburn's SEC opener as well; its first game of 2012 is against Clemson (in Atlanta).
Auburn Tigers (Sept. 8, Starkville)
• Conference: SEC
• 2011 record: 8-5 (4-4, 4th Western Division)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Gene Chizik (30-10, three years)
• Returning starters: 18 (7 offense, 9 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last meeting: Auburn, 41-34 (Sept. 10, 2011, in Auburn)
• On the Web: auburntigers.com
The Arthur Gustav Malzahn III era at Auburn was a very prolific one, but now it's over. He's at Arkansas State being a head coach, and now a whole lot of people – me included – are closely watching Chizik to see if he can win without Genius Gus at his side.
We know one thing: The only time Chizik won more than eight games as a head coach was the one year he had that freak of nature, Cam Newton, without whom Auburn wouldn't have even sniffed the BCS title game – or even an SEC West title.
Auburn's offense is now led by new coordinator Scot Loeffler, who coached QBs at Florida (2009-10) and then followed Steve Addazio to Temple as offensive coordinator last season. The Owls ranked seventh in the country in rushing offense under Loeffler, and the Tigers will be leaning heavily on its running backs. One of them, Michael Dyer, transferred out and took his 1,242 yards with him. But and experienced Onterio McCalebb (641 yards, five touchdowns) is back.
QB Clint Moseley had a bum shoulder in the spring and is battling Keihl Frazier for the starting job. Frazier was the offensive MVP of Auburn's spring game. Moseley split time with Barrett Trotter last season, passing for 800 yards, five TDs and three interceptions in 10 games. Emory Blake is a pretty good receiver who brings good experience and decent production (613 yards, five TDs), and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (238 yards, seven TDs) is back, although he missed spring with a labrum injury.
Auburn returns three starting offensive linemen.
The defense is now being coordinated by Brian Van Gorder, P.I. – CLICK HERE and be amazed at the man whose feet Tom Selleck kisses. Will his mustachioed awesomeness rub off on the Auburn defense, which ranked 81st in total defense and 78th in scoring defense last year?
The unit is led by 2011 leading tackler Daren Bates, a senior linebacker. He'll need to spearhead a stronger effort against the run, as the Tigers ranked 94th in rushing defense last fall (189.2 ypg). Auburn did OK against the pass (51st, 218.8 ypg) and returns three starters in the secondary. This should be a good early litmus test for MSU quarterback Tyler Russell and whether he can exploit vulnerable pass defenses.
And this is a game that could help vault the Bulldogs to a fast start. Look at the schedule, and you can reasonably foresee a 6-1 or 7-0 start. Just gotta get over that Auburn hump.