If you didn’t see Auburn’s fall from grace last season, you just weren’t paying any attention.
Of course, the Tigers won the National Championship in 2010 behind superstar quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, and stud defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner. Pretty much everything went right that year, including a stunning comeback over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
But in 2011, Newton and Fairley were off to the NFL and the Tigers brought back the fewest starters of any team in the FBS. So really, Coach Gene Chizik did a pretty darn good job in leading the Tigers to an 8-5 overall record and a 43-24 win over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl. But you could tell the young Tigers were outclassed when it mattered as they lost by at least two touchdowns to the likes of Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Auburn finished 4-4 and fourth in the SEC’s loaded West Division, with those wins coming against two lousy teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, one mediocre team in Florida and one decent team in South Carolina.
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Can Chizik get the Tigers back to SEC contention despite a few more key losses this offseason? Most oddsmakers say “no.” Here is Doc’s Sports 2012 Auburn Tigers college football preview and predictions:
While Chizik has proved those who lambasted his hiring as wrong thus far, he might face his biggest challenge this season. That’s because highly-regarded Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn left Auburn this offseason to return to his home state and be the head coach at Arkansas State (as an aside, if Malzahn had just waited a few months, he would have been the top candidate to replace the fired Bobby Petrino at Arkansas). Malzahn won the Frank Broyles Award as the top college assistant coach in the country in 2010 when Auburn rewrote the school’s offense record books. His unit understandably struggled last year with so many new players.
To replace Malzahn, Chizik hired Temple Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler. The former Michigan quarterback has worked with six future NFL passers during his college career, including Tom Brady (at Michigan) and Tim Tebow (at Florida). Loeffler’s Temple offense ranked seventh nationally in rushing in 2011. Certainly the Auburn offense will look different this year, although the spring didn’t give too many hints.
Chizik also had to bring in a new defensive coordinator after Ted Roof left last winter to be the coordinator at Central Florida. That seems like a major step down, all due respect to a good UCF program, but Roof was Central Florida Coach George O'Leary's defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech from 1999-2001. Plus, Roof might have been fired by Auburn as the defense wasn’t very good last year. Former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder replaced Roof. VanGorder won 2003 Broyles Award while the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
This unit took a major hit this offseason as star running back Michael Dyer transferred, joining Malzahn at Arkansas State (Dyer has to sit this season out). During his two seasons with the Tigers, Dyer rushed for 2,335 yards and 15 touchdowns and he was the Offensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game victory over Oregon. However, Dyer was suspended last December for violating unspecified team rules and did not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That likely sealed his fate at Auburn. At running back the Tigers still have solid depth, led by Onterrio McCalebb.
Seven starters are expected back on the offense, with the big question at quarterback. With Barrett Trotter also now gone, it’s a fight between Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier. Most reports have Frazier in the lead. While Moseley is a pocket passer for the most part, Frazier brings a running threat to the position. He was just 5-for-12 for 34 yards and two picks in limited time behind Trotter and Moseley last year but rushed 76 times for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He will have two excellent targets to throw to in tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and receiver Emory Blake, who both chose to return for their senior season.
VanGorder is charged with improving a unit that ranked No. 99 nationally in rushing defense, No. 79 in scoring defense and No. 78 in total defense out of 120 teams in 2011. His Falcons finished the regular season ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing defense and 12th in total defense year ago. VanGorder has vowed to turn his defensive line loose, and that group should be the strength of this unit. The star is definitely end Corey Lemonier. He finished with 47 tackles, 9.5 sacks (No. 16 in nation), 13.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles a year ago. Another end, Dee Ford, was reportedly devastating this spring after missing most of last season with back problems.
The linebacking corps is thin but does bring back Daren Bates, who led the team with 104 tackles and had 8.5 tackles for loss in 2011. The secondary can only get better after finishing Auburn finished last in pass efficiency defense and last against the pass in the SEC. It’s a veteran group so improvement should come.
2012 Auburn Tigers Football Schedule Analysis
Auburn is a lock to go no worse than 3-1 in its nonconference schedule with wins over cupcakes Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. I would ridicule that soft scheduling if Auburn didn’t have to open against defending ACC champion Clemson on Sept. 1 in Atlanta. Clemson beat Auburn in Death Valley, 38-24, last season and is already a 2.5-point favorite for the opener on 5Dimes. Auburn could catch a break if Clemson stud receiver Sammy Watkins is suspended for this game after an offseason drug arrest – Watkins’ discipline hasn’t been announced yet. But I highly doubt he gets more than a quarter if anything.
Auburn opens SEC play at Mississippi State in Week 2 and then gets three straight at home: the lock over ULa-Monroe before facing loaded LSU and Arkansas. Don’t look for Auburn to be favored in either. A 1-4 start is quite possible. Then come needed breathers at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt before Texas A&M visits Auburn for the first time as an SEC foe. Georgia also comes to Auburn on Nov. 10 before the Tigers finish the regular season as usual vs. Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
2012 Auburn Tigers Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, Auburn is +7500 to win the BCS Championship and +3000 to play in the game. Tigers are +3100 to win the SEC title and +1300 to win the West Division. Their “over/under” regular season wins total is 7.5, with the under a -190 favorite.
2012 Auburn Tigers Football Predictions
Chizik continues to bring in Top-10 recruiting classes, but I don’t see how this team can possibly do better than 7-5 with that deadly SEC schedule, having to break in two new coordinators and replace the workhorse Dyer. Roof might not be missed, but Malzahn will be. So forget all those title odds and also take the under wins. But in 2013, this team could be ready to contend in the nation’s toughest conference.
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