Auburn begins the season in just six short days with fans ready to push past the tumultuous offseason and watch football. The Tigers are facing changes in 2012, and there are 10 storylines that will determine the success of the program as they develop throughout the year.
The Tigers coaches settled on Kiehl Frazier for the starting quarterback position—as expected—earlier this week and have found leadership at key positions on the defense. The running game looks to be settled, but the offensive line is facing some issues heading into Week 1.
As the season draws to a near, the Tigers will have a lot of movement at key positions and will look to fit into the new offensive and defensive schemes that have landed on the Plains this offseason. Here are the 10 storylines that will be watched throughout the 2012 season.
Kiehl Frazier was announced as the starting quarterback for Auburn on Thursday, marking the official end of fall camp for the Tigers.
It was a big move for the coming season, adding a solid answer to a position that has been shaky since the beginning of spring training in 2011. Frazier will not be looking over his shoulder and is the firm leader at the position—something that should help him develop quickly.
Frazier is a rising sophomore who had mediocre success from the Wildcat position last year. He finished the season with 327 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns last year. Frazier also attempted 12 passes, completing five and throwing two interceptions.
The biggest question mark that surrounds Frazier is the passing efficiency. He wasn’t given the best opportunities last season to succeed with his passes, but the lack of numbers has led to concern.
This is the season for Frazier to rise to stardom. He is just a sophomore and is no way a Heisman contender this season, but he has the opportunity to lead the Tigers to a better than expected record and pick off a few teams that Auburn isn’t expected to beat.
The rise of Kiehl Frazier will be something to watch for Tigers fans this fall—he won’t disappoint.
Auburn has been very inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball in the past three seasons. With the hiring of Gene Chizik as head coach, most fans expected that Auburn would field a nasty defense, but so far that hasn’t happened consistently.
The Tigers landed Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator this offseason, and with VanGorder comes a defensive philosophy that will breed great results starting this fall.
Auburn had lost the defensive edge, but VanGorder is bringing it back. The new philosophy puts a lot of pressure on every position to perform, but the linebackers are carrying a heavy load. The position has experience returning and has been one of the most settled position groups throughout fall camp.
The defensive front for the Tigers will also be a major player in this defense's success with power and speed evenly distributed along the line. The Tigers will be a fast attacking and explosive group on defense, leading this year’s team to a number of wins.
The running back position has been settled at the top since the end of spring practice with Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason landing the top two spots in the backfield. Onterio McCalebb is rumored to have had his best fall camp in his career, and Tre Mason is going to be the clear load-bearing back for the Tigers.
Mason has gained weight in the offseason and is very physical at the point of attack. He proved in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the conclusion of last season that he could carry the weight of a between-the-tackles type runner.
With the front-line speed and one-cut ability that Mason possesses, expect him to be a major surprise for the Tigers out of the backfield this season. The Tigers have a host of talented backs, and Mason has quietly continued to hold firm to the shared starter duties with Onterio McCalebb.
Predicting 1,000 yards for Mason may seem like a lofty stat line to watch, but with the focus that will be placed on the rushing attack this fall, he will have plenty of opportunities to grind out the yardage by season's end.
Auburn has a lot of talent along the defensive line, but there are two who should stand out during the season—Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford.
Both Ford and Lemonier were traditionally speed-rush ends in the Ted Roof defense, but they now can play both strong- and weak-side of the play. Ford has been very good against the run in the past, but Lemonier has drawn criticism. That should stop by season's end.
Expect both of these players to pull their weight in the Auburn defense and excel at the point of attack. Quarterback sacks and tackles for loss will be consistencies with these two on the field.
In the past few seasons, Jake Holland has received his share of criticism from the Auburn family. Accusations including anything from not being fast enough for the SEC—hello, Josh Bynes—to the excuse that he wasn’t tough enough.
Keep in mind that Holland played through more than a handful of injuries over the past two seasons.
Holland is back for an explosive junior season, looking to lead the defense from the very important middle linebacker position this fall. Holland will do very well this year.
Auburn will have two seniors who can anchor the outside of the linebacker corps—Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans—which will help settle Holland in the middle. Auburn will have a ton of experience in the starting three.
With the support from the outside and a season starting with a clean bill of health, Holland is set up for success this fall. The defense is relying on his leadership this fall, and he looks ready to give it.
The Tigers offensive line will be one of the more talented lineups that will take the field in the conference this fall. The Tigers will have a big gap to make up early with the recent suspension of Reese Dismukes, but the overall talent is very good for Auburn.
The big issue facing the line is that at least two starters will have zero game experience. The Tigers return Dismukes as a starting center, John Sullen at guard and Chad Slade on the right side—either at guard or tackle.
Filling the left tackle role will be redshirt freshman Greg Robinson, and the right guard position appears up for grabs between Christian Westerman and Alex Kozan. Both options look good for the Tigers, but the youth and inexperience is a concern.
Auburn’s offensive line will need to mature quickly, with the Tigers looking to rely heavily on the rushing attack to start the season. How the line develops will be a key storyline to watch for Auburn this fall.
The questions that have mounted for Auburn this preseason have been based on the changing systems on offense and defense coming for the Tigers.
Scot Loeffler comes to Auburn after spending one season as the offensive coordinator at Temple, and he developed one of the most diverse play-calling sets in the country. Auburn will take snaps from under center, in the shotgun and possibly in the pistol formation.
The new offense will not be as susceptible to the quick three-and-outs that were witnessed with the Gus Malzahn offense, but it will struggle at times to start the year. There will be games that the defense must win for the Tigers.
By the end of the year, the Tigers faithful will be happy with the acquisition of Scot Loeffler. His offense will employ a balance that will ensure the Tigers defense is able to rest and the Auburn offense is proficient when it needs to be.
There will be a lack of big plays, but the tradeoff will be enormous for the Tigers.
Jay Prosch came to Auburn as a transferring All-American fullback from Illinois. The minute the move was announced the Tigers were ecstatic.
Auburn needed a firm lead blocker who could produce gaping holes in the new offense, and Prosch was their guy. Prosch has two years of eligibility remaining and has built a great reputation for his efforts so far on the Plains.
The “Juggernaut”—Prosch’s nickname from his Tigers teammates—has done extremely well this spring and fall, and he will lead the Tigers rushing attack through opposing defenses this season. Expect Prosch to replicate the success he saw at Illinois in Auburn.
The Tigers have two star receivers who will take the field this season looking to carry the Tigers passing game on their backs.
Auburn will have Emory Blake taking snaps on the outside, and Philip Lutzenkirchen making plays through the middle of the field. Both will be elite pass catchers in the Scot Loeffler offense, and they will carry a lot of responsibility in the coming season.
How much can the tandem handle?
The two will finish this season as All-Americans if Kiehl Frazier is successful guiding the Tigers passing attack. Both are leaders for the Tigers offense on and off the field. Auburn needs that leadership to continue and produce two successful seasons for the seniors.
Auburn has not won a game against the big four—Alabama, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia—outside of the 2010 national championship season. That will change this fall.
The Tigers host LSU, Arkansas and Georgia all in Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall. Having those three games land in Auburn is a huge positive for the Tigers. Auburn does travel to Alabama, but they play traditionally well as the road team in that contest.
The Tigers are poised to win more games than expected this season with the talent that is found throughout the roster and the stack of home games that the Tigers land in 2012.
Expect the Tigers to pull off more than one upset in the coming season.