The Auburn Tigers are heading into the 2012 season as a Top 25 bubble team with a number of concerns lining both sides of the football. The AP preseason poll will be released this coming Saturday—so where can the Tigers expect to land?
Auburn has strengths and weaknesses that must be levied by the voters before the decide on whether the Tigers should land in the Top 25. Here is a look at what problems could lead to an outside shot, and a look at the strengths that should place the Tigers inside the AP preseason Top 25 poll.
The Tigers have faced a lot of criticism surrounding their weaknesses heading into the 2012 season, but rarely have the glaring strengths been mentioned.
One of the most obvious strengths for the Tigers heading into the fall is the defensive line. The Tigers have 11 different guys that all bring game experience to the rotation. The Tigers have extremely talented defensive ends and a stable of inside men that will be tough on opposing offensive lines.
Another major strength for the Tigers is the running backs. Auburn has one of the most talented backfields in the country led by rising senior Onterio McCalebb. Auburn will rely on its stable of backs to provide a lot of the offense in the first few weeks, and they have the talent to handle the challenge.
Auburn is also returning arguably the most talented specialist tandem in college football this season. Steven Clark—Auburn’s punter—was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award last season. Cody Parkey has been extremely accurate in his two years on the plains as the kicker for the Tigers, but his leg strength is what gets the most attention.
Just as there are a number of strengths for the Tigers, there are a number of weaknesses as well.
The most followed issue that the Tigers will have heading into the new season is the quarterback position. Could Kiehl Frazier turn into the next Jason Campbell or Dameyune Craig for the Tigers? Of course, but their stardom rose exponentially in their final seasons.
Frazier is undoubtedly the starter at this point—although there has not been a formal announcement—but his 12 total passes last season will lead to concerns with his ability to hit receivers early with accurate passes. He played in all but two games last fall, but it was in a limited capacity. The lack of experience is a concern.
Another glaring issue is the offensive line. The Tigers will have three returning players that have started for Auburn in their career, but Auburn will also field at least two freshmen along the line.
The Tigers have seen success with freshmen contributors on the offensive line before, but anytime the offensive line lacks solid experience there is concern.
The biggest concern heading into the new season for the Tigers is the implementation of the new offensive and defensive schemes.
Gene Chizik finished the 2011 season with another winning record—his third in three years—but Auburn was on the hunt for two new coordinators. They found them in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler from Temple and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder from the Atlanta Falcons.
The Tigers will be working to get the new offense and defense off the ground for the first week of the season, but it is a tall task. VanGorder brings a complex NFL-type defensive scheme to the Tigers and Loeffler has built his offense on pre-snap shifts.
With the young offensive line, the shifts on offense could cause issues with false starts. On defense, getting a young but talented roster to digest a complex scheme could cause problems early for Auburn.
The Auburn football team will walk into the 2012 season with mixed reviews. Some pundits place the Tigers at a modest 6-6—like the ESPNU crew during SEC Media Days—while others have the Tigers winning a few more, but not by much.
The Tigers were recognized as the No. 25 team in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll that was released earlier in August, but the Tigers fell just short of the Bleacher Report Top 25 released earlier this week.
Typically, landing in the top 25 by season's end represents at least an eight-win season. Typically the AP poll follows closely alongside the coaches’ poll selections, but the bottom fifth of the poll is difficult to predict, especially in the preseason.
The Tigers are also receiving an early bowl projection from Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com, who has Auburn finishing in the BBVA Compass Bowl on January 5th in Birmingham, Ala.
After the predictions that have come from most major preseason magazines, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Tigers land at No. 25 in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll to start the season.
Typically, the AP and coaches’ top 25 polls coincide, with a few minor tweaks near the top, and a few near the bottom.
There are a number of teams that could have bumped into the coaches’ version of the poll that barely missed the cut that could push out Auburn, but I don’t expect that to happen to the Tigers. If anything, I expect the Tigers to jump one to two spots over their No. 25 ranking that was released earlier this month.
Auburn has some glaring issues that will need solutions once the season starts, but there is a lot of talent at key positions for the Tigers that will make them a tougher team than most expect this fall.
AP Prediction: No. 23