Time to look at Mississippi State's Week 2 opponent, and there's a lot more to this matchup than just on-the-field stuff. Auburn fans, I'm sure, can't wait for Dan Mullen to step into Jordan-Hare Stadium so they can voice their displeasure over the Cam Newton soap opera that overshadowed the Tigers' national championship run.
But, for the purposes of this entry, we'll just take a look at the 2011 Tigers' on-field product.
Auburn Tigers (Sept. 10, in Auburn)
• Conference: SEC
• 2010 record: 14-0 (8-0 SEC, 1st in Western Division)
• Final ranking: No. 1 AP, No. 1 USA Today, No. 1 BCS
• Coach: Gene Chizik (22-5, two seasons)
• Returning starters: 6 (3 offense, 3 defense, 0 specialists)
• Last meeting: Auburn, 17-14 (Sept. 9, 2010, in Starkville)
• On the web: auburntigers.com
I've seen some preseason rankings that include Auburn, including one that had it at No. 15. Hard to buy that when the big offseason talk isn't about who's back, but about who's gone. And the Tigers are missing some big players from last year's title run, namely Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
Both were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, with Newton going No. 1 to Carolina. Those two were elite playmakers that you don't see every year even in a league like the SEC. So I guess this year we really get to see how well Gene Chizik can coach and how much of a genius Arthur Gustav Malzahn III really is.
Auburn spent the spring searching for a capable quarterback and has yet to arrive at an answer. The leading candidates are sophomore Barrett Trotter and freshman Clint Moseley – Trotter is obviously the only one with experience, appearing in six games last season and completing 6 of 9 passes for 64 yards.
Expect Auburn to rely heavily on the running game, where plenty of talent returns, namely sophomore Michael Dyer (1,093 yards, five TDs) and sophomore Onterio McCalebb (810 yards, nine TDs). Senior left tackle A.J. Greene anchors the line.
On the defensive side, trying to replace Fairley are sophomores Ken Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker, who combined for 13 tackles last season. But who knows, one of those guys could be a break-out player – Fairley sure was last year.
Auburn was not necessarily a top-shelf defensive team last season, at least not by SEC standards. It ranked eighth in scoring defense (24.1 ppg), ninth in total defense (368.4 ypg), and 12th in pass defense (259.3 ypg). The Tigers did rank first, however, in run defense (109.1 ypg), and that can offset a lot of other categories.
I highly doubt the offensive production of last season can be duplicated: 41.2 ppg, 499.2 total ypg, 284.8 rushing ypg. All of those ranked first in the league. If Auburn is to win this season, it's going to have to take a different approach, because Newton and Fairley aren't around to carry an inordinate amount of the load.
Up next: LSU