Auburn Football: How the Tigers Can Shock All and Reach a BCS Game
On August 1st, the Auburn Tigers will begin fall practice in preparation for the 2012 season. Auburn players and coaches believe that this year is setting up to be a special one on the Plains and the Tigers are planning on shocking the college football landscape by landing in a BCS bowl this season.
During SEC Media Days, ESPNU picked wins and losses for every SEC team, giving the Tigers six wins and six losses for the coming year. That isn’t what the Tigers are looking for in 2012, but the majority of college football pundits feel Auburn will have a mediocre season.
What if Auburn doesn’t struggle? The Tigers have the chance to pull off another shocking season in 2012, with a number of key starters returning and a host of experienced backups lined up behind them.
These are the eight reasons the Tigers could shock the college football landscape and land in a BCS bowl this winter.
Week One Win Jumpstarts Season
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Auburn will head to Atlanta to start the 2012 season with the season-opening game coming in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Clemson. Clemson is a strong team coming off an ACC title-winning year with a number of key playmakers returning to the Tigers from the Carolinas.
When kickoff comes, Auburn will likely be an underdog looking to outperform expectations. The Tigers will have new offensive and defensive schemes, and a new quarterback—relatively new—taking over the offense.
There will be a number of issues that the Tigers will face, but if Auburn can put all the pieces together in the first week of the season, a win against the defending ACC champions will springboard the 2012 season into the fast lane to success.
Even though this game is not a conference contest, in the eyes of the BCS and the bowl selection committees it is a must-win. Auburn can have a few blemishes and still land in a BCS bowl, but this is one strike that can’t happen if the Tigers want to finish the season after New Year’s Day.
Big September Builds Steam
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Auburn enters the season with a tough schedule to start the first month. The Tigers hit the road in the first two weeks facing Clemson in Atlanta and Mississippi State in Starkville, then return home to host the last weeks of the month in Jordan-Hare Stadium against Louisiana-Monroe and LSU.
Clemson, Mississippi State and LSU will be tough games to lead into the coming year—especially with the Tigers breaking in new schemes offensively and defensively.
The most dangerous opponent is obviously the LSU Tigers, but Auburn will have a tough time traveling to Starkville in week 2 as well. Starkville is a harsh place to visit, but an early kick will keep the fans' rowdiness to a minimum.
If Auburn can plow through the month of September with a 3-1 or 4-0 record, it will be hard to argue against the Tigers being in the early BCS bowl discussion.
Tigers Backfield is Better than Advertised
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
The Auburn backfield is not one that is receiving a lot of rave reviews as the 2012 season approaches. Onterio McCalebb is a player who has built a strong reputation in the past few seasons as a speed back and pass catcher, but he isn’t a premier every-down type guy that the Tigers can hang their hat on.
Players like Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Mike Blakely will be asked to provide the every-down type plays to spark the offense this season, with all three having little to no experience on gameday.
All three were highly rated recruits coming out of high school, but the lack of experience pushes away the majority of positives that come from the talent level that the three backs carry.
By season’s end that will change.
Auburn has top-level talent that will man the offensive line and an All-American fullback, Jay Prosch, who will be paving the way for the young Tigers' running backs.
The Auburn offense will rely on its running backs to carry the offensive weight early in the year as the Tigers develop a new starting quarterback in the first few weeks of the season. With McCalebb, Mason, Grant, Blakely and incoming freshman Jovon Robinson, the Tigers have plenty of talented options that fill the most underrated backfield in the SEC entering the 2012 season.
New Offense Brings Production and Clock Management
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
When Scot Loeffler was named offensive coordinator this past winter, Tigers fans released a sigh of relief. Auburn was returning to an offense that could provide consistent production and clock control when needed.
Under Gus Malzahn the Tigers were explosive offensively, but they were very inconsistent—2010 was the exception not the rule. If Auburn didn’t find the groove early in a contest, it was nearly impossible to regain traction before the game was too far gone.
The Tigers also struggled to keep the offense on the field and the defense on the sideline long enough to catch enough wind to be effective. If the Malzahn offense didn’t score quickly, it usually ended in a 3-and-out.
This year, the Tigers will have various formations they will line up in and Auburn will welcome back the offensive huddle. By eliminating the no huddle, spread only offense, the Tigers will be able to regulate the clock more efficiently than ever since Gene Chizik has taken over the program.
Steady production and clock management are two key factors that could set this year’s Tigers up for immediate success and increase the chances for them to win tough games that draw down to the wire.
Defensive Line Reaches Potential
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
The Auburn defense had a host of issues last fall with the majority of those stemming from the lack of experience found throughout the ranks. This season the Tigers return all but one player that contributed consistently—Neiko Thorpe is now with the Kansas City Chiefs—and layers of backups with gameday experience.
Along the defensive line, the Tigers have at least 11 different guys that will have the chance to contribute.
The Tigers had major issues upfront last season, but most of that came from the youth that took the field and manned the defensive line. There was only one upperclassman that made any type of impact and it was reserve Jamar Travis.
This season, Mike Pelton will have a wealth of talent and experience at his disposal. The Tigers are poised for a very strong year with elite pass rushing ends and head-stomping defensive tackles leading the charge.
If Auburn can reach the potential that is evident, the Tigers will be a force defensively.
Skill Players Grow into Positions
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
Gene Chizik and Co. have done a great job bringing top talent to the Plains in the past three years. The Tigers have a number of elite skill players that will line the sideline this fall, but few have made big splashes since arriving in Auburn.
There have been a multitude of reasons that have hampered the growth of the skill players, but the excuses fly out the window this season. Experience will not be a factor but consistent production could be.
Only two skill guys, Onterio McCalebb and Emory Blake, have proven their worth on the field so far for the Tigers. Auburn has to have guys like Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Travante Stallworth grow into their respective positions quickly if the Tigers want to contend for a BCS bowl game.
Defensive Secondary Achieves Consistency
John Reed-US PRESSWIRE
The Tigers' secondary had to leave a lot of plays on the field the past three seasons—Auburn has been awful at times in the secondary.
There have been a few scattered plays that have been very good, but the overall performance has lacked consistency and effectiveness. This season that changes.
Auburn returns starters at every position in the secondary and has talented, experienced backups that fill out the depth chart. Having talent isn’t the only answer—not making big mistakes will be. Consistency will be the key word for the Tigers' secondary this season.
The Tigers should see increased efficiency from the defensive backfield in the new Brian VanGorder defense. VanGorder likes to use his secondary to bring blitzes and to create turnovers often. With VanGorder came Willie Martinez—a talented secondary coach that has also served as defensive coordinator for the University of Georgia.
With VanGorder’s knowledge and experience, as well as the coaching acumen that Martinez brings to the table, the Tigers should achieve the consistency in the secondary that has been lacking in the past few years. If they do find consistency, this year’s defense could become one of the best in the SEC and the country.
Kiehl Frazier Finds His Way
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
It is no secret that I believe Auburn has already settled on a quarterback before fall camp opens, and the guy expected to take snaps this year is Kiehl Frazier. The athletic ability and arm strength Frazier brings to the table makes him the favorite for most everyone following the race.
That being said, Kiehl Frazier has to find his way this season. Last year he had a defined role in the Malzahn offense as a Wildcat quarterback option, but he was never given the chance to be a pure quarterback.
This year Frazier is being coached up by Scot Loeffler—a guy that is a known quarterback developer. Frazier is receiving high reviews from summer workouts with Emory Blake making the most recent glowing endorsement, saying that Frazier had the strongest arm he has been around in his career—that career includes Cam Newton.
If Frazier can take his physical gifts and blend them into the new offensive scheme he will be tough to stop this coming fall. Frazier is a natural leader and is a very intelligent signal caller.
Auburn will rely on Frazier’s performance at times this fall. With his skill set, Loeffler’s leadership and the surrounding cast the Tigers will place on the field, Frazier will be in good shape to find his way to success. Don’t sleep on the talent that will be running the Auburn offense this season.
If Frazier can find his groove in the first few games, the Tigers' offense will be explosive by year’s end, helping them march to big victories and a BCS bowl appearance.