As bowl season approaches, it is not uncommon nor is it wrong to think about next year. Everyone wonders, "Will my team be in the same position next year?" It is something we can't help but to think about.
Auburn, with a No. 1 ranking, an undefeated 13-0 record and an SEC Championship won in dominating fashion, will play the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in Glendale, AZ on Jan. 10 for the BCS National Championship.
The hard truth is that very few, if any, predicted that Auburn could be where they are. The experts didn't. I must, however, brag that I did predict a 14-0 record and a championship (though I may or may not have been kidding at the time).
My point is that no one knows the future, but we like to think about it anyways, so let's take a look at one of the biggest contributing factors to this year's success: the quarterback position.
Cameron Newton. If you're an Auburn fan, you love him. If not, you probably hate him. It doesn't matter, you cannot deny his talent. All season I have argued with the people that say Auburn is a one-man team. No. They are not. However, much of their success would not have been possible without him. He is not the team, but he is the most crucial piece.
Cam Newton has a decision. Does he stay at Auburn for his senior year or does he jump to the NFL?
He's playing for the national championship. He just won the Heisman Trophy. He is projected as a first-round pick. He also was involved in a scandal that involved a pay-for-play, though deemed innocent and eligible. (Please don't focus on this portion if you choose to comment, thank you.)
If he wins the BCS title, he's done it all. What is there to come back for?
If he loses, maybe he wants another shot.
If he actually is guilty of the scandal and it's only a matter of time before we learn of it, he may leave anyway.
This whole discussion looms on Newton's decision.
He had us scared. He had me scared. But today, it was announced that Gus Malzahn turned down $15 million, guaranteed cash. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but he is thought to have become the highest paid coordinator in the country, so more than USC's Monte Kiffin's $1.5 million salary.
Simply put, Gus Malzahn is coming back.
He is an offensive genius and a large part of the success at Auburn this year. I know he can't take the field in pads. But this guy can draw up a game plan.
Whoever is taking snaps next year, Malzahn's presence will be very helpful.
No matter what happens, four of Auburn's starting offensive linemen will not be there next year.
Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Ryan Pugh and Byron Isom all graduate this year. The only starter left will be right tackle Brandon Mosley, a JUCO transfer converted from tight end.
One could find hope in that Mosley was actually not the starter. Through a lengthy battle, A.J. Greene emerged as the starter, but broke his leg against Clemson. So there are two tackles with starting experience. After that, it's all questions. Backup center Blake Burgess looks promising, as does incoming freshman Reese Dismukes. At guard, John Sullen appears to be a shoe-in. As for the other guard position, I expect a hefty position battle which could include Jared Cooper, Tunde Fariyike, Eric Mack and even some incoming freshmen.
Watch out for JUCO OL Jacob Fahrenkrug. He is considering Auburn, Arkansas and Florida State. He could be a starter immediately.
Regardless of the lineup, the four seniors' experience is invaluable. They have such great chemistry and talent, it will a little harder to dominate the line next year, especially with a new quarterback.
Gone will be Terrell Zachery and Kodi Burns, sadly. Back will be Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. More experienced will be Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer. Ready will be Trovon Reed. Emerging (hopefully) will be Deangelo Benton and Quindarious Carr.
Whoever is taking snaps will receive help from these players. It's the supporting cast that helped Newton this year. It will return to help him again should he return and ready to mold a new leader should he go.
Barrett Trotter is currently Cameron Newton's backup. He has seen some time as cleanup duty, but limited to that. On the season, he is 6-of-9 for 64 yards. He has carried the ball five times for 68 yards and a touchdown. He can move the ball with his legs, obviously though not like Newton.
Trotter was All-State 5A in Alabama and was listed as a 3- to 4-star prospect, depending on your source.
He is a red shirt sophomore and next year will be his fourth at Auburn, third under Malzahn.
I have faith that Barrett Trotter could, if needed, lead this team. He has talent, no doubt. And he'll have a supporting cast that knows how to win. Should he get the nod next year, I believe this team will be successful.
Perhaps a wild card, Clint Moseley is somewhat unknown. He was a 2-star prospect according to rivals. His senior year he led Leroy High to a championship, throwing for over 3,700 yards, 35 touchdowns, only five interceptions, also adding 670 yards and 15 scores on the ground. He was nominated Mr. Football in the state of Alabama.
He was involved in the quarterback battle and impressed. He had a solid A-Day game and looks like he could succeed as a starter.
Moseley is talented, but inexperienced. He's never really played at the collegiate level and will be a red shirt sophomore next year. If Newton leaves, look for a three-man quarterback battle, and don't be shocked if Moseley is impressive.
If you follow recruiting, you already know about Kiehl Frazier. He is a 4-star, rated as high as the No. 3 QB in the nation. A dual-threat style player, he looks to be a good fit in Auburn's Malzahn-esque offense. He plays a similar game to Cameron Newton. In his senior year, 138-218 for 2,656 yards, 38 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He also rushed for 1,112 yards and 19 touchdowns, not to mention a receiving touchdown.
Yeah, sounds familiar, doesn't it?
True freshman quarterbacks don't generally need to be baptized by fire in the SEC. In a perfect world, I believe that if Kiehl Frazier had a year to develop behind Newton in Malzahn's offense, then had his remaining three years of eligibility under Malzahn, he could match Newton's success. But it's not a perfect world. It's doubtful that Malzahn stays more than two more years, and also not a given that Newton comes back.
But that's just wishful thinking. I doubt Frazier starts next year, but I don't rule it out. Even if not, I love the idea of Frazier to Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson in a few years.
Someone asked me what I thought Auburn's record would be minus Cameron Newton. The popular guess is anywhere between 5-7 and 7-5. I don't know. I won't guess. Auburn's scheme would have been different for sure. The coaches aren't stupid enough to use the Newton-style offense with someone who can't run it. Although yes, Newton is key for this season. He is a lot of the reason Auburn is 13-0. Without him, there wouldn't have been an SEC or BCS title shot.
So what happens if he leaves?
I don't know, neither do they. Everyone claims that Newton and Nick Fairley should go pro. Maybe they should. The Auburn fans don't want them to. I don't want them to. But they might. And that will hurt. Some tend to forget, we have 24 seniors on this team. Add in Newton and Fairley, and that's 26 players gone. Next year could be a down year, but it could be a repeated success year. Either or, I'd feel much better if Newton stayed.