2007 RECORD: 9-4; SEC: 5-3
Won Chik-fil-A Bowl vs. Clemson 23-20 (OT)
LOCATION: Auburn, Alabama
STADIUM: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville
OVERALL: 105-53 (13 seasons)
AT AUBURN: 80-33 (9 seasons)
Auburn struggled early on last year, losing at home to both South Florida and Mississippi St. to start the season 1-2. A new offensive line, which featured three freshmen starters, and a lack of productivity at quarterback made a quick start nearly impossible. Eventually, they got it together behind their defense to win tough road battles at Florida and Arkansas, but trips to Baton Rouge and Athens prevented them from reaching ten wins…a total that is a minimum for the 2008 season.
WHEN THE TIGERS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Brandon Cox, Carl Stewart
There is nothing like bringing back five starters along the offensive line, especially when they are all talented. LT Lee Ziemba made 13 starts last season as a true freshman and senior OG Tyronne Green is ready to break out in his final season in Auburn. The offense will be better for some of the struggles from a year ago. They are going to the spread offense, but expect the Tigers to run all over their opponents. Senior TB Brad Lester is back and provides the shiftiness in the backfield they missed early on last season. Junior Ben Tate is more of a classic between the tackles power runner. The depth doesn’t stop there, as Tristan Davis probably gives them the best combo of size/speed and Mario Fannin, who will be lining up wide most of the time, may be their most physically impressive offensive player. They are not quite as well stocked at receiver, but should be fine as long as they get improved quarterback play, which leads us to the battle between Kodi Burns and Chris Todd. Burns was the difference maker in their bowl victory over Clemson, the first time Auburn unveiled OC Tony Franklin’s offense. He is the better runner, while Todd is more of a pure passer who played in Franklin’s system in high school.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) OT Lee Ziemba (SO), 2) OT Ryan Pugh (SO)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Paul Rhodes (1st Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Quintin Groves, Pat Sims, Patrick Lee, Jonathan Wilhite, Josh Thompson, Eric Brock
Will Muschamp, the DC, was a big loss. However, Paul Rhodes’ defense at Pittsburgh was actually ranked higher than the bunch at Auburn last season. They must replace a couple of productive players along the defensive line, but return two of the better lineman in the SEC with Sen’Derrick Marks moving back to defensive tackle and DE Antonio Coleman coming off the edge. Expect both to be forces penetrating into the offensive backfield. What the defense could use is a full season from talented junior MIKE Tray Blackmon, who can cover ground sideline-to-sideline, but has trouble staying on the field. They have three OLBs who expect to contribute, with sophomore Craig Stevens the most intriguing after making seven starts as a freshman. They must replace Patrick Lee, but junior CB Jerraud Powers appears ready to be the number one guy—Powers matched Lee pick-for-pick and he was among the leading tacklers a year ago. They are set at safety, with sophomores Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil ready to make their presence felt in the SEC.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) DL Sen’Derrick Marks (JR), 2) DE Antonio Coleman (JR)
Location, location, location…Auburn doesn’t have many creampuffs on the docket, but their schedule plays to the Tigers’ advantage. After they open up SEC play with an early trip to Starkville to take some measure of revenge on Mississippi St (MSU knocked them off in week three, last season), Auburn plays host to LSU. Odds are that game will decide who represents the SEC West in the conference championship game. Not only does LSU come to Jordan-Hare stadium but so do East rivals Tennessee and Georgia. Other than Mississippi St., they do not face a tough road test in conference play until they close out the year with a trip to Tuscaloosa. They do travel to Morgantown in late October and a win over West Virginia could make these Tigers, players in the BCS title chase.
Adjustments: Auburn has experienced players returning at every position, except for quarterback. The signal caller could very well be the pivotal point, but they appear to have a couple a solid options and that position should work out just fine. Something the entire team will have to do is adjust to new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Tony Franklin orchestrated an explosive offense at Troy before coming over to coach the Auburn offense in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. Rhodes’ defense with the Pitt Panthers was among the best in the nation and he will have more talent to play with, if they adjust to his coaching style. The adjustments will be made. The question is—how long will take?
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
The Auburn Tigers have alternated seasons reaching double digits in wins since Tommy Tuberville’s status as headman was put into question. In 2004, they went undefeated on their way to 13 wins, won nine games in 2005, reached 11 wins in 2006 and posted “only” nine wins again last season. It is an even year…so you know that means. The Tigers will battle LSU for the West and are among the favorites for the SEC. Their schedule isn’t brutal for an SEC program, making the Tigers National Title sleepers.
Photo Credit: Todd J. Van Emst (Auburn University Athletic Dept. Photographer)
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
2007 RECORD: 9-4; SEC: 5-3