Auburn Tigers: Top Five Storylines for the Fall
After an 8-5 debut season for Gene Chizik, expectations are high on the Plains for the 2010-11 season.
The Tigers looked years away from rebuilding after former coach, Tommy Tuberville, left Auburn with the cupboard bare following a disappointing 5-7 campaign.
However, after a nail-biting victory against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, Auburn is looking to continue their climb back to the top of the SEC.
Here are five story-lines to watch for this season.
5. Can Gene Chizik Avoid Sophomore Slump?
Gene Chizik came to Auburn with a 5-19 career record as a head coach. Needless to say, expectations weren't very high entering his first season on the Plains.
The opposite holds true for his sophomore season as the Tigers' head coach.
After a solid 8-5 campaign last year, he has built a solid foundation, and many fans expect him to lead their team to double digit victories this year.
While predictions of a ten or eleven win season may be premature, Coach Chizik has to improve on what he started in 2009.
4. Tigers Must Improve Special Teams Play
Wes Byrum returned to his freshman form last year, converting fifteen of his 16 field goal attempts and all 54 of his extra points.
Byrum and the rest of the special teams will need to perform well this season if the Tigers expect to win close games.
Last season, the Tigers had to rely on walk-ons to play on the kickoff coverage and return teams.
This year, special teams coach Jay Boulware hopes to use Auburn's stellar defensive recruiting class to add athleticism, which will also help with defensive depth.
3. Former Starters Return To Help Secondary
When Zac Etheridge was carted off of the field last fall during the Ole Miss game, his football career was the last thing on anyone's mind.
After a miraculous recovery, the senior safety plans on returning to the field this season to finish his career.
Joining him will be safety Mike McNeil and cornerback Aairon Savage.
Savage has missed the last two seasons due to injury. He showed promise on the field early in his career, and hopes to pick up where he left off in the fall.
McNeil is a former starter for the Tigers, but drew a lot of criticism for his performance.
Even still, he has the physical tools and athleticism to contribute this year.
2. New Starters At Quarterback and Running Back
While Cameron Newton, Mario Fannin and Michael Dyer all look to have SEC-level talent, it will be hard to replace the productivity and experience that Chris Todd and Ben Tate left behind.
Tate rushed for 1,362 yards and ten touchdowns last year while Todd threw for 2,612 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns.
Cameron Newton comes to Auburn from Blinn Community College, where he led his team to a national championship last year.
He brings more physical tools than Todd had, but his ability to learn Gus Malzahn's offense will be key to his success.
Mario Fannin and Michael Dyer will more than likely play running back by committee this season, and have the potential to do very well.
Fannin is one of the most explosive athletes on Auburn's team, and he finally gets the chance to be the starter.
Michael Dyer was the number two running back in high school last year, and claims he is ready to contribute immediately.
1. Can Auburn End Slumps Against Hated Rivals?
The Auburn Tigers consider three schools to be their main rivals: LSU, Georgia and, of course, Alabama.
LSU has won three straight over Auburn.
Georgia has defeated the Tigers four years in a row.
The Crimson Tide have owned bragging rights in the Iron Bowl for two years running now.
In order for the Auburn to have a successful season, they need to defeat at least two of these rivals this year. Not only are bragging rights on the line, but all three games are conference games, with LSU and Alabama both being in the same division.
The Tigers have a favorable schedule this year, getting LSU and Georgia at home, while having to travel across the state to take on the defending national champs.
This year is as good as any for a little revenge.