The Auburn Tigers will have at least six players this season that will have a solid shot to finish the year as All-Americans.
The Tigers carry one of the youngest rosters in the country this season, but they also have a lot of experience hidden in the youth. The Tigers will head into the year with questions at quarterback and a few on the offensive line, but otherwise a strong roster will take the field.
Auburn carries a very talented defensive line, an experienced secondary that is poised for a strong season and two of the best kicking specialists in college football for the 2012 year. Some Tigers players have already received first team All-SEC honors—Philip Lutzenkirchen and Corey Lemonier—so their names are obvious choices for possible All-Americans as well.
Toss in an experienced senior leader at receiver and a young, promising defensive back and the lineup of possible All-Americans is complete. Here is a breakdown of the six Tigers with the best shot at the top honor this fall.
Corey Lemonier is listed as a preseason first team All-SEC member entering the 2012 season.
Lemonier is a dangerous pass-rushing threat that finished the season seventh in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks in the SEC during the 2011 season. As the new year approaches, the excitement surrounding Lemonier’s third year with the Tigers is at an all-time high.
The one part of the game that Lemonier must improve on before this season kicks is his run defense. Lemonier knows it, and so does coach Gene Chizik. It is such a hot topic that Chizik fielded a question about Lemonier’s run stopping ability at SEC Media Days and answered with “He's still growing as a pass-rusher as well. There's no question that Corey in the run game, he has some room for improvement, he knows that, we know that” (via SECDigitalNetwork.com).
If Lemonier can improve his run-stopping ability this fall under the instruction of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive line coach Mike Pelton, he stands the chance of earning national recognition.
Philip Lutzenkirchen is an easy and obvious pick as a Tigers player that could end the season as an All-American selection. Lutzenkirchen is one of the elite tight ends in college football entering the 2012 season.
Lutzenkirchen has been stellar as a team player for the Tigers, at times denying his best interest as an individual player to help his team excel.
This season Lutzenkirchen will be given the chance to shine. When you look at what Scot Loeffler wants to accomplish with the Auburn offense, it is easy to see the tight end position will be a major part of Auburn’s success.
Having a lack of experience and leadership at quarterback, the Tigers will need options in the passing game that can make plays quickly and stretch plays for extra yards. Lutzenkirchen has great hands for the position and is a tough runner with the ball in his hands. Expect a number of pass plays in the early stretch of the season to head his direction.
Having a player with the experience and the talent of Lutzenkirchen will make for a nice recipe for the Tigers passing game. Lutzenkirchen’s role will assure his ascension up the national stage this fall.
When the Tigers take the field against Clemson Sept. 1 in Atlanta, they will have only one proven receiver for the newly appointed quarterback to throw to. That receiver is Emory Blake.
Blake has been an intricate part of the Tigers passing attack the past three seasons, and is looking for his best year in orange and blue to happen this fall. Blake will be the immediate go-to guy for the new quarterback and proved a year ago—before falling to injury—that even when the defense focuses on Blake, he can still be effective.
This needs to be Blake’s strongest year. He has totaled 88 catches in his career. Trooper Taylor has devised the “80-for-80” campaign for his star receiver, saying that he wants 80 catches for No. 80.
There isn’t a question that Blake has the ability, but will the Tigers be strong enough in the passing game to support an All-American receiver? Time will tell, but if Blake stays healthy he will make even the most basic quarterback look talented. Blake can carry his own weight, the ball just needs to make it in his wheelhouse.
As the 2012 season opens, Jermaine Whitehead will be just another name on a roster to most of the college football world. To Auburn, he will be an anchor for the Auburn secondary.
Whitehead played extensively as a true freshman last season, earning time as a cornerback and nickel back by year’s end. Whitehead will play this season as a safety and nickel back for Auburn. He is a player that the Tigers want on the field as often as possible.
As the season progresses, Whitehead will settle into a role for the Tigers that may look similar to Tyrann Mathieu at LSU. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is an aggressive play-caller and with the intelligence and athleticism that Whitehead brings to the field, he could finish the 2012 season as one of the best defensive backs in the country.
Expect Whitehead to earn sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions this season—possibly in the same game. The talent is there, it is up to Whitehead to make an All-American season happen.
The Auburn Tigers have been known for producing top specialist talent throughout the years and Cody Parkey is another successful specialist to pass through the Plains.
Parkey is entering his third season with the Tigers and is arguably one of the most accurate kickers in the college game for the 2012 season. Parkey has an explosive leg as well, pushing the majority of his kickoffs last season through the back of the end zone.
The Tigers will be very vulnerable to tight games at the beginning of the year as the offense tries to find a groove in the new scheme. Parkey will be a big part of the Tigers scoring plays and Auburn will rely on his ability to make game changing kicks in some big contests to start the year.
By season’s end, Parkey will have moved to the top of rankings as one of the most dangerous specialists in the country. Parkey will simply need to continue with the momentum built over the past two years to reach the highly regarded All-American list by the end of the fall.
Steven Clark ended the 2011 season as a Ray Guy finalist and begins this season on the awards watch list.
Clark was a very dangerous defensive threat for the Tigers last season, forcing opposing teams to virtually hand over the keys to their punt return team when playing Auburn. Clark has a strong leg that produces amazing hang time, giving his coverage team time to down the punts or force fair catches.
Last season Clark showed how accurate he could be as well, landing 33 punts inside the 20-yard line last year. He also hit 13 punts for 50-yards or longer.
Expect much of the same this season as Clark doesn’t have far to go before he becomes an award winning All-American punter for the Tigers.