Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
One major question for the 2013 Auburn Tigers was answered on Saturday, when head coach Gus Malzahn named junior college transfer Nick Marshall as his starting quarterback.
But as that offseason storyline closed, many more opened up early this week as several pieces of Auburn's defense had to be shifted around for a variety of reasons.
Safety Demetruce McNeal, who had missed fall camp recovering from an infection, was dismissed from the program following an arrest for second-degree possession of marijuana, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. McNeal's dismissal means that converted corner Josh Holsey—who was shifted to boundary safety this spring—is now the unquestioned starter at safety.
One of Holsey's former backups at corner, Jonathan Jones, broke his ankle slipping on steps, according to AL.com. That injury created even more depth problems in the secondary for the Tigers and prompted true freshman Johnathan Ford—a 4-star running back signee from the class of 2013 according to 247Sports.com—to volunteer to move to cornerback full-time.
All of the mixing and matching at the back end of the defense is on top of the knee injury that will keep defensive end Dee Ford—who led Auburn with six sacks last season—on the sideline for at least the opener versus Washington State.
Auburn's defense is going to be better in 2013 because, let's face it, it'd be hard to be worse than last year's squad that finished the season giving up 420.5 yards per game. But switching to the 4-2-5 scheme under new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson coupled with depth issues due to injuries is going to make it hard for the Tigers to be consistent on that side of the ball.
That will put a ton of pressure on the Auburn offense and, in particular, Marshall.
Auburn can win with a dynamic offense and a defense gives up yards but forces turnovers and gets stops at key times. That's how it won the 2010 BCS National Championship. But for that to happen, Marshall is going to have to cut down on some of his mistakes.
He tossed 20 interceptions and fumbled five times last season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told AL.com that he didn't fumble or throw a pick in any of the Tigers' scrimmages during fall camp.
Is that a sign of progress or an indictment of Auburn's defense?
It's probably both, but expecting a completely polished Marshall is unrealistic in 2013.
How many wins will Auburn have in 2013?
That means the 2013 season is going to be a roller coaster on the Plains.
The athleticism on the roster is a perfect fit for Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme that allows a little more freedom than the previous regime. But there will be some speed bumps along the way.
Marshall will make plays that leaves your jaw on the floor, but will also make plays that leave you scratching your head. The good news for Auburn is that, if his jaw-dropping plays come at the right time, it could lead to an upset or two.
The good news for the country is that the high-risk, high-reward nature of Auburn football in 2013 is going to make it an fun team to watch.