The Mailbag: Will Auburn Turn Around Its Season And How Well Will The Pac-12 Do?
It is Thursday, which means it is time for another dig through the mailbag to answer questions from football fans.
This week, we have questions on SEC and Pac-12 football.
Jesse Sears asks about Auburn's 2013 season:
@LisaHorne Does Gus Malzahn lead AU to a turnaround season after last year's flop?— Jesse Sears (@jckjes7) June 13, 2013
That depends on how you define "turnaround." Last year, Auburn was winless against SEC opponents and posted a 3-9 record, with wins over Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M.
There really is nowhere to go but up. Alabama and Georgia spanked Auburn in shutouts, but the Tigers did keep it close against LSU, losing 12-10. Unfortunately, they also kept it close against Louisiana Monroe, winning 31-28 in overtime.
The Tigers have running back Tre Mason returning (1,002 yards, 8 TDs), but they lose some big playmakers in receiver Emory Blake, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and the versatile Onterio McCalebb.
This is concerning because Auburn finished last in the SEC in total offense last year.
New head coach Guz Malzahn is an offensive genius and we will certainly see more creative formations, but he needs time to rebuild this program. The quarterback situation will not be resolved until camp starts. Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace both have starting experience.
The Tigers' schedule has a lot of landmines, as do all SEC West schedules. Auburn plays at LSU, at Texas A&M, at Arkansas and at Tennessee, in addition to hosting Mississippi State, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.
I see potential wins against Tennessee and Arkansas.
The nonconference schedule looks doable. Auburn opens with Washington State, which is coached by Mike Leach. How Auburn's pass defense holds up against Leach's Air Raid offense will be telling. Auburn lost to Texas A&M 63-21 after Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel passed for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
Washington State may not produce much of a rushing attack. It ranked last in FBS rushing with an average of 29 yards per game in 2012. But the Cougars' five-receiver sets may still cause problems for Auburn's secondary.
If the Tigers beat the Cougars, there will have been noticeable improvement.
Six wins would be an acceptable record in a rebuilding season. While that is not quite a turnaround season, it is certainly one that should be embraced. Great programs build slowly, not overnight.
Next up is a two-part question by Chris regarding the Pac-12 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
@LisaHorne I wanna get your thoughts on how u feel the pac 12 will be this year? also how do u think johnny football will be in year 2?— Brotha Buckets/Chris (@DjDerum) June 13, 2013
The Pac-12 should have another solid year. The conference returns an average of 15.6 starters per team. By comparison, the Big Ten returns an average of 12.4 starters per team, the Big 12 11.4.
Two teams that may surprise are Arizona State in the South and Washington in the North.
Arizona State's defense may have one of the best front sevens in the country. If Washington can keep its offensive line healthy, we should see the Huskies eclipse that seven-win mark.
Oregon, UCLA, USC and Stanford all should have great seasons as well. UCLA needs to work on containing the edge on runs, while USC's cornerbacks need to close the distance between themselves and receivers. Oregon and Stanford should continue where they left off last season.
As far as Manziel, there is so much pressure on him this year. Last year, he was a freshman quarterback on a team that was in its debut as an SEC member. This year, he is a Heisman winner trying to avoid the sophomore slump. Only three sophomores have won the Heisman. Then again, Manziel was the first freshman to win it.
He will probably struggle to repeat last year's performance, although the schedule sets up nicely for him. The Aggies drew Vanderbilt and Missouri from the East. They do have to visit Arkansas and LSU, but play a total of eight games at home.
On September 14, we will know exactly how well Manziel backs up his electric 2012 season when Texas A&M hosts a ticked-off Alabama Crimson Tide.
An elephant never forgets.
Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.
If you have a college football question, ask Lisa Horne on Twitter or email her at Lisa@Bleacherreport.com.
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