BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 11-2; SEC: 6-2
Won Cotton Bowl vs. Nebraska 17-14
LOCATION: Auburn, Alabama
STADIUM: Jordan-Hare (87,451)
HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville
OVERALL: 96-49 (12 seasons)
AT AUBURN: 71-29 (8 seasons)
The Tigers have played at a high level the last three seasons with a record of 33-5, while finishing in the top 15 each season, peaking at number two in 2004 when they finished 13-0. Since Tommy Tuberville’s tenure at the Alabama school appeared to be ending, the headman has entrenched himself as one of the best in the business. Over the last seven seasons, the Tigers have either won the SEC West title outright or tied for the crown five times, an impressive number considering the stiff competition. With just 11 starters back from last season’s squad, the '07 campaign will be one that puts Tuberville’s program to the test.
WHEN THE CATS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Al Borges (4th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 4
KEY LOSSES: Ben Grubbs, Tim Duckworth, Kenny Irons, Courtney Taylor
Quarterback Brandon Cox suffered through an injury plagued junior season, as he took a step back statistically. His health is vital to the Tigers chances of winning the SEC. While the off-season did him good, an offensive line that returns just one starter is not exactly what the doctor ordered. Left tackle King Dunlap is an experienced pass protector and the staff loves the potential that left guard Tyronne Green brings, as many compare him to Ben Grubbs. If they can sure up the right side of the line, they could challenge the Tigers to the west for the SEC crown. Their backfield may be the deepest this side of USC, with junior Brad Lester and sophomore Ben Tate the front-runners heading into the season. Waiting in the wings are kick returner extraordinaire Tristan Davis and redshirt freshman Mario Fannin. They are looking for a go-to receiver to emerge, but are three deep with talent at tight end, led by senior blocker Cole Bennett and the athletic Tommy Trott.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) King Dunlap (SR), 2) Ben Tate (SO), 3) Tyronne Green (JR), 4) Tommy Trott (SO), 5) Lee Ziemba (FR), 6) Tim Hawthorne (FR), 7) Cole Bennett (SR), 8) Brad Lester (JR), 9) Carl Stewart (SR), 10) Mario Fannin (FR), 11) Gabe McKenzie (SO), 12) Brandon Cox (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Will Muschamp (2nd Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: David Irons, Will Herring, Karibi Dede, Marquies Gunn
The Tigers will lean heavily on their dynamic duo at defensive end. Quentin Grooves returns for his senior campaign after much speculation that he would declare for the NFL Draft. Not many ends bring the type of speed coming off the edge that Grooves does, which is why he will become the school’s all-time sacker this season. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will move Grooves around, using him some at outside linebacker when they switch to the 3-4 alignment. While Grooves is about speed, sophomore Sen’Derrick Marks is among the stoutest ends in the land, making his mark as freshman at defensive tackle. At linebacker, they are undersized but make up for it with their feet, especially sophomore stud Tray Blackmon who appears to be back in good graces with Tuberville. They are deep at safety, while the corners will have to prove themselves without David Irons.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Quentin Grooves (SR), 2) Tray Blackmon (SO), 3) Sen’Derrick Marks (SO), 4) Aaron Savage (SO), 5) Michael McNeil (FR), 6) Jonathan Wilhite (SR), 7) Josh Thompson (SR), 8) Erick Brock (SR), 9) Pat Sims (JR), 10) Merrill Johnson (JR)
Last season they were set up to take the SEC West, playing most of their toughest opponents at home. Ironically, they handled both LSU and the eventual National Championship Gators, however Arkansas and Georgia each took them to the woodshed in front of the home crowd. This season the schedule is not so favorable…certainly not the most conducive to winning the SEC. Not only do they travel to play division rivals LSU and Arkansas, they also make trips to the Swamp to take on the Gators and play Georgia “Between the Hedges”. One game the Tigers should be sure not to look past is an early visit from the South Florida Bulls, an up and coming Big East program.
Special teams production was a key component to their success last season. Kicker John Vaughn accounted for 94 points, making 20-of-24 (2-of-3 from 50-plus). Punter Cody Bliss averaged a whopping 45.7 yards per punt and Matt Clark, who handled kickoffs, led the nation in touchbacks, preventing opponents from making a return on 51 of 66 kickoffs. That combo gave the Tigers some of the best coverage units in all of college football. Kick returner Tristan Davis averaged 27 yards per return, while Robert Dunn averaged just 5.5 yards on punt returns, their lone blemish. This season they must replace Vaughn, Bliss and Clark. Davis returns, as does Dunn, however he must win the job again.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
If everything breaks right, the Tigers could find themselves in the SEC Championship game, however looking at the schedule leads one to believe this is not the year of the Tiger (at least not in Alabama). Moreover, even while they won 11 games last season, SEC opponents out-gained them yardage wise, usually not a winning formula. Then there are the issues that four new starters to the offensive line bring, primarily keeping Brandon Cox upright and healthy. They are the fifth best team in the SEC by my estimation, but that does not necessarily imply a down season. A plethora of speed and several playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, as well as a stable full of thoroughbreds in the backfield ensure that will not happen.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #13 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown