There is hope on the plains. After an eventful few years of Gene Chizik (which included a National Championship in 2010-1, but a winless SEC year in 2012, which cost Chizik his job), the offensive co-ordinator/mastermind/God who brought you THAT National Championship in 2011 is back – and his name’s Gus Malzahn.

LAST SEASON

Where do we start about how goddawful Auburn was last season? Well, their wins came against University of Louisiana-Monroe (in overtime), New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. ULM had an 8-5 record last year, and this win was about as quality as you get, considering there were just three of them.

Last season we had the quarterbacking exploits of Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace and Clint Moseley. We’ll be polite and say that none of them were exactly brilliant in their seasons, with Frazier’s something that could be described as being as close to ‘fecal’ as a quarterback’s season could be.

And because of this awful offense, Auburn lost to Clemson by 7, Vanderbilt by 4 and LSU by 2. And when the defense wasn’t good enough, they lost by Alabama by 49, Georgia by 38 and Texas A&M by 42.

And all the way during the season, the poisoned Toomer’s Oaks shrivelled and died, until on April 23rd, 2013, they travelled up to heaven, with over 84,000 people in attendance – who also came along to Auburn’s Spring Game.

Gone but not forgotten – rather like Gene Chizik, actually.

OFFENSE

While we’ve said some horrible things about the offense, let’s not forget that somehow the Tigers still managed to put forward a 1,000 yard rusher – Tre Mason. This year he should be joined by top juco Cameron Artis-Payne, and that should give the Tigers a powerful 1-2 punch.

On the quarterbacking side, we know that there’s going to be no Kiehl Frazier in 2013 as the quarterback, after Frazier took himself out of the running and voluntarily moved to safety, which means that the battle’s going to be between freshman Nick Marshall and juco Jeremy Johnson. It may well be that Wallace is outside looking in.

Receiving-wise, Auburn loses top receivers Emory Blake, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (the latter’s going to be a freak in the pros, yo!), and Travante Stallworth, so a lot will be expected (read: Hoped for) of Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson and Trovon Reed. Reed will also partner with Quan Bray in the punt/kick return game, which could become a strength for the Tigers

Oh, and the offensive line should be improved, too, led by center Reese Dismukes, and tackles Patrick Miller and Greg Robinson – both sophomores – have been talked about as having “NFL potential if they continue to develop”.

DEFENSE

Defense-wise, co-ordinator Ellis Johnson is shifting things from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5, and he’s already calling out the defenders for making “too many mental mistakes”. Linebacker Justin Garrett’s going to be one to watch – especially after his performance in the Spring, and we LOVE sophomore linebacker Cassanova McKinzy – but mainly (and solely, actually), because of his awesome name.

The place of strength for the Tigers will have to be the secondary – particularly when they are up against Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and Tyler Russell (as well as Mike Leach’s Washington State offense). We’ve talked about Frazier moving in (we think he’ll be a part-time player there), but starters Chris Davis, Jonathan Mincy, Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones are back, and they HAVE to improve on their interception count of 1, scored last year against Alabama A&M.

THE SCHEDULE

Aug. 31: Washington State
Sept. 7: Arkansas State
Sept. 14: Mississippi State
Sept. 21: at LSU
Oct. 5: Ole Miss
Oct. 12: Western Carolina (HC)
Oct. 19: at Texas A&M
Oct. 26: Florida Atlantic
Nov. 2: at Arkansas
Nov. 9: at Tennessee
Nov. 16: Georgia
Nov. 30: Alabama

It’s not inconceivable that Auburn could beat Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State to go 3-0 to start the season, and it’s not inconceivable that after losing in Death Valley on September 21st, they beat Ole Miss and Western Carolina to be a healthy 5-1 before losing at Texas A&M. Then, it’s not conceivable that they beat Florida Atlantic, win at Arkansas and Tennessee to be bowl-eligible even before they play Georgia and Alabama at home….which they lose heavily. Still, a 8-4 record would probably give Gus a plinth. Heck, they might even name an eagle after him. But then again, it’s not inconceivable that Ellis Johnson defense isn’t in shape to deal with Mike Leach’s offense in Week 1, fails to cope with Arkansas State coach’s Bryan Harsin’s offense in Week 2, gets eaten alive by Tyler Russell, Zach Mettenberger ¬†and Bo Wallace and then embarrassing itself against Western Carolina. After getting smoked against Johnny Manziel, Auburn finds a will to be Florida Atlantic, but further losses at Arkansas and Tennessee aren’t anything compared to home battering the Tigers get against Georgia and Alabama, leaving the Tigers to finish 1-11. We just don’t know.

BOTTOM LINE: Frankly, it’s going to be something in the middle. We’re going for 6-6, with bowl eligibility, and a SEC win (or two). That’s a lot better than 2012.

 

 

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