Auburn Football: Answering Biggest Questions Facing Tigers in 2013

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IFebruary 21, 2013

Dec 1, 2012; Jonesboro, AR, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves head coach Gus Malzahn during the game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at ASU Stadium. Arkansas State defeated Middle Tennessee 45-0. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

New head coach Gus Malzahn has his hands full shaping the Auburn Tigers in 2013.

The team took a nosedive the past couple of seasons under Gene Chizik and finished last year with an abysmal record of 3-9.

With an influx of young players and no real clear direction to speak of, Auburn must get things turned around in a hurry if it is to be a competitive team in the brutal SEC this upcoming season.

Who will win the job as the team's starting quarterback?

Who will emerge as the go-to running back?

Will the team's defense be able to rebound from a subpar season last year?

These are the biggest questions facing Auburn this year, and I've got the answers.


Who Will Win the Starting Quarterback Job?

There are currently five young quarterbacks vying for this job: Kiehl Frazier, Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall, Jason Smith and Jonathan Wallace.

Frazier really struggled last year when given a chance to play, going 1-4 in his five starts. He wasn't confident, nor was he accurate. I don't believe he's the answer this year for the Tigers.

Johnson, the No. 5-ranked quarterback prospect in the nation, has the potential to become one of the most dynamic players in college football. He's not ready to jump right in as a true freshman, though, and it would serve him and Auburn well to sit him for at least one year.

Smith is a phenomenal athlete, but there's a good chance he'll find his niche as a non-quarterback when it's all said and done.

Wallace started four games last year, throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions. He is a capable player, but I expect him to be a backup in 2013.

Verdict: Look for JUCO transfer Marshall to end up starting games for Auburn this season. The strong-armed quarterback is ready to step in from Day 1 and lead Malzahn's up-tempo offense with great effect. 


Who Will Carry the Load As the Team's Go-To Running Back?

The obvious choice here is Tre Mason, who rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns last season for the Tigers.

But don't rule out Corey Grant, a speedy back who would be a perfect fit for Malzahn's fast-paced offense. He only ran the ball nine times a year ago and suffered through a miserable season on the bench after transferring from Alabama, but a fresh start under Malzahn is just what Grant needs.

Also, incoming freshman Johnathan Ford is a player to watch this upcoming season. 

Verdict: Corey Grant will emerge as the team's most electric running back in 2013. He and Mason will split carries, but Grant will give the Tigers the home-run threat they need to really stretch defenses from sideline to sideline.


Will the Defense Rebound in 2013?

After the team gave up over 28 points per game a year ago, there have been some concerns about how Malzahn's up-tempo offense will impact the defense.

After Malzahn left to coach Arkansas State, Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate his offense. Loeffler immediately implemented an offense geared toward eating the clock, hoping to "protect the defense." 

Let's just say it didn't work out too well. 

While it's true that an up-tempo offense could potentially put more pressure on the team's defense, it's also true that the more points the offense scores, the easier it will be for the defense to attack opposing offenses.

Look for Carl Lawson to emerge as a dominant pass-rusher this year. Opposing teams will be forced to pass the ball more often this year than last, since Auburn's offense will be putting up more points. This will be ideal for Lawson and the team's 4-2-5 scheme.

Verdict: Auburn's defense will definitely rebound this year. Malzahn's recruiting class is loaded with talented defenders, some of whom will make an immediate impact.


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