It wasn't long ago that Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers were preseason top 10, favorites in the toughest conference in college football, and reeling off nine of 13 against AP top 10 teams. How things have changed...
The foundation on the plains has been shaken and the landscape of Auburn football has been transformed over the last eight months. The man that commanded Auburn for 10 years and arguably considered the most successful coach in the school's history was run out of office at the end of a tumultuous 2008 campaign.
The season ended with a massacre at No. 1 Alabama resulting in Auburn's first loss in seven years against its biggest rival.
Auburn has been a force in the SEC conference for years and now the Tigers are an afterthought.
In what most consider the busiest offseason in recent years, the Auburn Tigers have rebuilt their program from the ground up starting with the hiring of former defensive coordinator that led the Tigers to an undefeated 2004 season and carried his success to the University of Texas where he led the Longhorn defense to a national title in 2005.
Following his success as coordinator, Gene Chizik took on an impossible challenge to rebuild and revive the Iowa State program as head coach. In two seasons, Chizik left his team with a dismal 5-19 record.
The hiring of Gene Chizik as the successor to Tommy Tuberville left the college football world in shock and dumbfounded by athletic director Jay Jacob's decision.
Almost every Auburn fan questioned the hire, doubted the administration, and feared the end of Auburn football for years to come. How could they not? Auburn has a chance to make a statement hiring a successful and proven coach Turner Gill and instead, on a whim, gives the reigns to a two-year coach, albeit former standout at Auburn, with a 5-19 record...
Chizik has stepped in and not only rebuilt the program and replaced nearly every staff position, but he has assembled one of the most proven coaching staffs in all of college football. One of the greatest strengths of the new administration is recruiting and Chizik has targeted some of the nation’s top young prospects.
In three months, the staff recruited the 19th ranked class in 2009. The upcoming year has the potential to be a top ten recruiting class with Chizik focusing on three of the top ten running backs in the country.
Under Tuberville, the Auburn Tigers had an offense that consisted of pounding the ball on the run and maybe three or four passing plays. The offense was predictable in his last season even after hiring a proven offensive genius in Tony Franklin. Franklin was axed mid-season and the offense at Auburn performed even worse without him.
Chizik has recruited another offensive powerhouse, Gus Mahlzahn, with expectations to pound the ball, throw the ball, and ultimately, light up the scoreboard. The former Tulsa offensive coordinator led the nation in scoring in 2007 and finished second behind powerhouse Oklahoma in 2008. His greatest attribute is the balance he provides.
Tulsa ranked fifth in rushing yards and ninth in passing last season. Auburn may not post 40+ points per game in Mahlzahn's first season but they will be balanced and prolific for the first time in many years.
Chizik is also taking a chance naming Chris Todd, a product of Tony Franklin and a transfer from Texas Tech, starting quarterback. It is an understatement to say Todd was miserable last year, but he has battled shoulder injuries and was in the midst of rehabbing his shoulder from surgery last season.
The word on campus from players and staff is that Chris Todd is the man, a new leader, a revived spirit on a deflated football team. He will be their man this season and lead Auburn to success.
For the first time in recent years, Auburn has a strong group of young wide receivers and playmakers with potential to grow into offensive threats in the SEC. Darvin Adams, Terrel Zachary, and highly recruited DeAngelo Benton headline the starting roles.
Behind them are freshman standout Emory Blake, former quarterback Kodi Burns, and preseason standout Tommy Trott at tight end. Barring injury, the Auburn receiving corps could be one of the surprises in the conference this season.
The major concern for Auburn lies on defense. Under former Minnesota defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the secondary will be much improved and the linebackers among the best in the conference. The front line is strong, however thin, and any injury trouble early in the year could result in major problems for the defense.
Overall, look for Auburn's defense to finish top twenty, maybe top ten nationally barring injury, in the upcoming campaign.
The 2009 Auburn Tigers are a team shrouded with uncertainty, little or no expectations, and as an afterthought in a strong conference. Look for the Tigers to contend for second or third place in the West. Ole Miss is an overrated team that will falter late in the season.
LSU may win the West, but they are certainly not invincible and look for losses to Florida and Alabama as an end to their title hopes. Alabama will have another strong season under Nick Saban but don't expect to see them as a national title contender with an unproven quarterback behind a young offensive line.
If Auburn can build momentum and win at home against West Virginia and knock off LSU early in the season, expect the Tigers to be contenders in the division. Auburn is being overlooked, but don't write them off just yet...
The sky's the limit for the 2009 Auburn Tiger team...