In just three weeks and some change, the #1 Auburn Tigers will face the #2 Oregon Ducks. Everyone knows about this matchup: carrying every hint that it could be a shootout of epic proportions. This season has been a hell of a ride.
Auburn started off ranked #23 by ESPN (some had them unranked, some ranked as high as 10).
I was at Arkansas State, and I knew this team would be special. But I didn't know how special.
A few months later, here we are. I hate how short a time it took, but I'll address that later. Auburn is 13-0 with a #1 ranking and an impressive list of victories. It is national championship bound.
But at this time of year - between the season's end and the first bowl game - we find ourselves thinking ahead. No one can predict the future, but I like to think about what could be sometimes.
This is a look into Auburn's near future.
Writer's Note: If during the player breakdown I don't mention a player, forgive me. It's 4 in the morning. Also, I am mainly including scholarship players/main contributors. This is not to say that the walk-ons, scout team players, and those buried on the depth chart are not important. I believe in team.
* denotes that a player could leave early for the NFL.
Head Coach Gene Chizik
I remember the drama surrounding the hire of Gene Chizik. We all do.
Who's laughing now?
Gene Chizik assembled a stellar staff, retaining only strength & conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley. The coaches he hired were:
- Gus Malzahn - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
- Ted Roof - Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
- Trooper Taylor - Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers
- Curtis Luper - Running Backs/Recruiting Coordinator
- Jeff Grimes - Offensive Line
- Jay Boulware - Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
- Tommy Thigpen - Safeties
- Tracy Rocker - Defensive Line
This coaching staff has excellent chemistry. Perhaps the most crucial part of this Auburn team, and any recruit will tell you, is the family atmosphere on the team. This staff has a lot to do with it.
Gus Malzahn is an rising star, just five years removed from high school. He had a hefty offer to become head coach at Vanderbilt and turned it down. Ted Roof is a former head coach (it didn't work out well) and is also staying. Barring something crazy, which could happen any day, the entire staff will be back for the third straight year.
QB Cameron Newton
Who's Graduating: Neil Caudle
Who Might Leave: Cameron Newton
Who's Returning: Cameron Newton*, Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley
Incoming Freshman: Kiehl Frazier
You may have read my article about Cameron Newton and how his going pro would affect Auburn next year. If not, you can read it here. And that's basically what it boils down to. If Newton stays, it will bring stability and aid a team that is losing a large number of seniors.
If he goes, a position battle will ensue. I would expect Barrett Trotter, the most experienced, to win. Though don't be surprised if Clint Moseley wins or comes close. I wouldn't expect Kiehl Frazier to start as a true freshman, especially in the SEC.
While Frazier's inexperience will keep him off the field, he may be the most talented. It's hard to foretell Trotter's or Moseley's ability for a whole 60 minutes when they haven't seen the field much. It is also unclear which is more able to win.
I must mention. Kiehl Frazier is the only player in Arkansas high school football history to be named MVP of three different state championship games.
Recruiting Targets: Auburn is not recruiting any more quarterbacks.
RB Michael Dyer
Who's Graduating: Mario Fannin
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb, Davis Hooper
Incoming Freshman: n/a
Mario Fannin is not a hefty contributor. But he is a leader in the backfield. He's a team player and an excellent blocker in passing situations. He will be missed among the Auburn family.
Returning are Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer. Dyer is just a freshman, but has become the feature tailback over the length of the season. He is an every-down back that broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record. Expect him to be a force for years to come. McCalebb is a speed demon that is a threat to break one off on any carry. The two will play thunder and lightning for at least one more season.Davis Hooper is a player that is mainly on the roster for depth. He saw very limited action in mop-up duty. I don't believe he is on scholarship, but hopefully he returns for his senior season.
After that remains questioned.
Recruiting Targets: Savon Huggins, Marlin Lane, Jeremy Hill, Tre Mason, Isaiah Crowell, Brent Calloway
Auburn is plans on signing two running backs to this year's class. Marlin Lane is committed to Clemson, but is still being actively recruited. Jeremy Hill recently decommitted from LSU and looking at Auburn, Tennessee, and Florida State. Savon Huggins is not committed anywhere and looks to be a decent shot to sign. Isaiah Crowell is a long shot, as Alabama and Georgia have been long time leaders. Auburn is still actively pursuing him though. Tre Mason looks to be a sleeper in this class, and Auburn has a good shot at getting him. Watch out for Ameer Abdullah. I don't know how strongly Auburn is recruiting him, but he does show some interest. Brent Calloway is also one to watch for. He's technically an athlete as he plays running back and linebacker for Russelville High School. He is committed to Alabama, but has interest in Auburn, and the interest is definitely mutual.
I think Tre Mason, if offered, will wind up a Tiger. Marlin Lane said he will play at Auburn or Clemson. Jeremy Hill really likes Auburn. He says that he and La'el Collins, an LSU committed 5-star OT, would like to play together. We will see. Savon Huggins appears to be a target that is likely to wind up at Auburn. On his official visit, Michael Dyer worked him into heavy interest.
WR Darvin Adams
Who's Graduating: Terrell Zachery, Kodi Burns
Who Might Leave: Darvin Adams
Who's Returning: Darvin Adams*, Emory Blake, Quindarious Carr, Deangelo Benton, Derek Winter, Philip Pierre-Louis, Travante Stallworth, Trovon Reed, Shaun Kitchens, Antonio Goodwin
Incoming Freshman: Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson
Zachery and Burns are major losses. Zachery has been a go-to guy for the last two years. Burns, while not as productive, will leave a gaping hole as far as leadership goes. To see more about my perception of Kodi Burns, go here.
Darvin Adams is a very productive receiver, one of the elite in the SEC. There has been speculation that he is third most likely to leave early (behind Nick Fairley and Cameron Newton), but I fully expect him to return. He has been lost in the All-SEC voting, but that is mostly due to the pool of talent at the position. He, especially this year with Cameron Newton carrying the ball so much, doesn't get as many catches as guys like Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffrey, Joe Adams, and A.J. Green, but his presence is in no way inferior.
Emory Blake really broke out this season and will likely start opposite Adams. Quindarious Carr has gotten a handful of touches on the year and will probably be used more next season. Winter is a good leader, but doesn't get many catches. Pierre-Louis has been in the dog house for much of his career. Stallworth doesn't see the field much. Of course, all of this is subject to change.
Deangelo Benton is entering his junior year, and it's getting close to the point where he either breaks out and produces, or he'll be buried (in the depth chart, of course). Trovon Reed was one of the freshmen that was highly anticipated. He was redshirted due to injury, and I expect him to come out big next year. Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin saw the field a little and should contribute more next year.
Both Jaylon Denson and Sammie Coates are solid and could be future stars. They could see the field as freshmen.
Recruiting Targets: To my knowledge, Quan Bray (who is being recruited as an athlete) is the only potential receiver that Auburn is really recruiting.
TE Philip Lutzenkirchen
Who's Graduating: n/a
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Eric Smith, LaDarious Phillips, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Robert Cooper, Dakota Mosley
Incoming Freshman: C.J. Uzomah
Eric Smith has been on the field for a while, and he will be for one more season. LaDarious Phillips is another freshman I was excited about. His rating on recruiting sites were low, but this guy was a running back (a successful one at that). The clincher: he's 6'1" and about 290 lbs. He says his playing weight is about 270-275. Regardless, he's a monster. He, too, was redshirted due to injuries, but expect him to get some carries.
At tight end, we all know Philip Lutzenkirchen, the Auburn Tiger with the best name. He caught the game winner against Alabama, and the guy can dance. If you watched the Iron Bowl, you know what I'm talking about. This guy has come up big multiple times, catching five touchdowns with only 13 receptions. I would look for him to get a few more catches. Auburn doesn't use a second tight end often, but behind him are Robert Cooper and Dakota Mosley (who was redshirted this year).
C.J. Uzomah is a very interesting prospect. He is an athlete that projects as a college tight end, and at 6'5" and 230 lbs., he looks the part. He played primarily receiver/tight end, and also played some quarterback. I believe I read that Gus Malzahn spoke of playing him in the wildcat formation. Regardless, he's a name to probably remember.
Recruiting Targets: Brandon Fulse, Alvin Dupree
Dupree told Auburn point blank that if they offered him, he would commit. He hasn't earned one, but he could wind up getting one. You can never tell. Fulse is a good-looking player. Auburn has a realistic shot at landing him.
C Ryan Pugh
Who's Graduating: Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom, Bart Eddins
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Brandon Mosley, A.J. Greene, John Sullen, Blake Burgess, Jared Cooper, Andre Harris, Tunde Fariyike, Eric Mack, Ed Christian, Chad Slade
Incoming Freshman: Reese Dismukes, Thomas O'Reilly, Greg Robinson
It's easy to see why Auburn has been so dominant. They fielded four senior offensive linemen. It all starts up front. And this is one of the best lines in Auburn history. There is no doubt that Ziemba, Berry, Pugh, and Isom will be missed.
To replace them, well, will be difficult. Brandon Mosley, a JUCO transfer, starts at right tackle. Originally, he was Ziemba's backup. There was an intense right tackle position battle. First it was between Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gaydon, another JUCO transfer (who left the team during the season). Then it became a battle between John Sullen and A.J. Greene. Greene won it, and played well, before breaking his leg against Clemson. Sullen replaced him in that game, but Mosley ultimately got the nod.
So there's two tackles with starting experience: Greene and Mosley. John Sullen is versatile enough to play guard or tackle and will likely start. The other two positions are questionable. Walk-on Blake Burgess has played well. I wouldn't be surprised if he earned a scholarship. I believe him to be the front-runner at center next year. But don't sleep on freshman Reese Dismukes.
At the other guard position, Cooper has experience. Fariyike, Mack, Christian, and Slade could also compete. And who knows, maybe Thomas O'Reilly, a top 10 guard nationally, could contend. Personally, I'm looking for Eric Mack to have gotten on track, dropped some weight, gotten a lot stronger, and prepared to start. He was one of the biggest signees last year.
Shon Coleman: You probably know the situation. Coleman was an intriguing commit last year, ranked a 3-star by ESPN but a 5-star by Rivals, no one knew how he'd turn out. But man, he looked dominant.
Coleman was diagnosed with cancer. He did not sign with Auburn, obviously. He is cancer-free, and looks to sign on this year. Last I heard, Gene Chizik was going to talk to the NCAA to grant him an extra year of eligibility, because it's doubtful that he'll be able to play this year.
Recruiting Targets: Xzavier Ward, Spencer Region, Christian Westerman
I haven't heard much about Xzavier Ward lately. I'm also not sure if Spencer would make it. He committed to Bama, then decommitted and committed to Auburn, then decommitted and named Wisconsin his leader. I don't know where he'll wind up, but Auburn (and I think Bama too) won't offer him a scholarship unless it's a last resort late in the process. Westerman is an excellent 5-star prospect who is committed to Texas. That's iffy now. He took an official visit to Auburn and liked it. I don't know the chances, but maybe he'll be a Tiger.
DT's Mike Blanc and Nick Fairley
Who's Graduating: Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton
Who Might Leave: Nick Fairley
Who's Returning: Nick Fairley*, Jeffery Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Derek Lykes, Jamar Travis
Incoming Freshman: Angelo Blackson, JaBrian Niles
Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton share the second defensive tackle spot this season. They will both graduate. Both are also great leaders. What will make this position worse next year is if Nick Fairley skips his senior year. He has all the makings of a first round pick, but the Auburn family will sleep better for sure if he comes back.
Behind him next year should he return are Jeffery Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, two true freshman who got some playing time this season. Next year, they'll be more experienced and a lot better. Good enough to start? Who knows. Derek Lykes and Jamar Travis are defensive tackles that are on scholarship but don't play often. Next year would be a time where they'd have to.
Recruiting Targets: Jonathan Jenkins, Terry Bell, Gabe Wright, Devaunte Sigler
Auburn is coming after JUCO DT Jonathan Jenkins. He is committed to Oklahoma State, but is still open to recruiting and is taking an official visit soon. I haven't heard anything on Terry Bell. He's a good prospect that had interest in Auburn, but I don't believe he will wind up a Tiger. Gabe Wright has said he loves Auburn and could very well sign on. He's teammates with Isaiah Crowell, so a commitment from him could be big in multiple ways. Sigler is expected to commit at any time, though at 6'5" and 245 lbs., he looks more like a defensive end.
DE Nosa Eguae
Who's Graduating: Antoine Carter, Michael Goggans
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Nosa Eguae, Joel Bonomolo, Corey Lemonier, Chirs Sanders, Dee Ford, Justin Delaine
Incoming Freshman: Keymiya Harrell
Carter has been a force all year. Goggans split time with Eguae and was quite productive. Eguae returns as a redshirt sophomore, and may be just as talented as some of Auburn's great ends. Bonomolo, I do believe, was redshirted. He will have two years to play starting next season. He's a beast in the weight room and has great acceleration off the line. I expect him to contribute heavily.
Lemonier got substantial playing time and looks phenomenal. He will be a true sophomore and don't be surprised if he winds up starting. Sanders played lights out on special teams. Look for him to make some noise as well. Justin Delaine is a question mark. Dee Ford has a great look but isn't as productive, but he may be due to break out. Keymiya Harrell looks decent but may be looking at a redshirt season.
Recruiting Targets: Jadeveon Clowney, Ray Drew
Ray Drew is the #3 prospect in the nation on many recruiting sites. He is a 5-star and a very solid player. He's also an ordained minister. Auburn appears to have a good shot at him, but he is putting off naming a top school list for a while. Clowney is the #1 prospect and will probably wind up at South Carolina, but Auburn is recruiting him heavily.
LB Daren Bates
Who's Graduating: Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Daren Bates, Eltoro Freeman, Jonathan Evans, Harris Gaston, Jessel Curry, Ladarious Owens, Jake Holland, Jawara White
Incoming Freshman: Chris Landrum, Justin Garrett
What can you say about Josh Bynes? He's the team's leader on defense. He said before the season, "This is the year." And he had a lot to do with it. I cannot stress enough what Bynes means to this team. He and Stevens played every snap of defense a year ago. Stevens has been as productive this year, but was still solid. The two are huge losses.
A former safety, sophomore Daren Bates returns from a solid year and will likely start (unless he is moved back to fill a void at safety). Former JUCO transfer Eltoro Freeman has been stellar when he's been on the field. Jonathan Evans and Harris Gaston got a little bit of playing time and also appear ready to challenge. Jessel Curry and Jake Holland played sparingly as freshman. Personally, I think Curry may have been a major steal (he was only a 2-star on most recruiting databases). Holland will likely compete to replace Bynes. Owens and White look to be good players, but neither have seen the field this year.
I expect the starting lineup to be Daren Bates, Eltoro Freeman, and probably either Jonathan Evans or Harris Gaston.
Recruiting Targets: Kris Frost
Frost is the only other linebacker that Auburn is pursuing, other than the ATH Brent Calloway (which I spoke of in the RB section).
CB Neiko Thorpe
Who's Graduating: Demond Washington
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Neiko Thorpe, T'Sharvan Bell, Chris Davis, Anthony Gulley Morgan, Jonathan Mincy
Incoming Freshman: Jonathan Rose
Demond Washington is the only senior to be leaving at corner. While he had leadership qualities, the entire secondary lacked this year.
Returning is Neiko Thorpe, the player I screamed at the the screen on more than one occasion. He will be back for his senior year, and hopefully plays better football. T'Sharvan Bell is likely to get the start opposite him. He has come up big in nickel situations this season.
Gulley Morgan and Mincy are questionable, but should be in rotation. Chris Davis is poised for a breakout season as a sophomore. Incoming freshman Jonathan Rose could honestly start. He's that good. Look for him to make a splash as well
Recruiting Targets: Marcus Roberson, Alex Dixon, Bruce Dukes
Roberson is from St. Thomas Aquinas, which is less of a high school and more of a factory. He looks like a future star, however, I am unsure of Auburn's current standing with him at this time. But I know Auburn is recruiting him. However, many sites list Dixon and Dukes as prospects for Auburn, but I haven't heard anything of it.
S Mike McNeil
Who's Graduating: Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Mike McNeil, Ikeem Means, Drew Cole, Demetruce McNeal, Ryan Smith
Incoming Freshman: Anthony Swain
What illustrious careers Etheridge and Savage had, eh? Etheridge broke his neck against Ole Miss last year. Savage was given six years due to injuries.
But next season they will be gone. And the torch will be passed. Sadly, there aren't many who will be there to take it. McNeil is basically a lock. I think he's due for a breakout season, to play like the #8 prospect he was coming out of high school. He'll likely start next year.
The other position is a toss-up. I feel Ikeem Means, a walk-on, has played excellent in the little playing time he's seen. Good enough to earn a scholarship? Yes. Good enough to start? Maybe. Time will tell.
Drew Cole is probably a career special teams/backup player. But he's a good one. Smith is still coming to his own. Demetruce McNeal was a steal last year.
Recruiting Targets: Erique Florence, Robenson Therezie
Two of the biggest prospects left that we're looking good to sign. Florence is the #1 safety (#1 player left uncommitted in Alabama) and Auburn has led for him since summer time. He's basically a locked deal. Therezie's nickname is "Cadillac". Auburn had a pretty decent player named Cadillac once, if my memory serves me right. Auburn is in good shape to land Therezie, who will likely move to corner.
K Wes Byrum
Who's Graduating: Wes Byrum, Ryan Shoemaker
Who Might Leave: n/a
Who's Returning: Cody Parkey, Steven Clark
Incoming Freshman: n/a
Wes Byrum is one of Auburn's greatest kickers of all time. He replaced another one of Auburn's greatest kickers of all time, John Vaughn. Hopefully the replacee, Cody Parkey, can become just as great. He was the #1 kicker coming out of high school last year and shared some kickoff duties this past season.
Ryan Shoemaker started the season. He then lost the job to Steven Clark, who would forfeit back to Shoemaker. He was a slight bit inconsistent, but solid nonetheless. He will likely resume punting duties next season.
Recruiting Targets: Auburn is not recruiting any kickers or punters.
Auburn is losing a lot next year. The amount of seniors clearly are a major factor in being 13-0 and playing for a national championship. They will create a huge void next year.
One of the biggest losses will be the four seniors along the offensive line. That loss of experience could severely affect Auburn next year.
It's too early to make predictions. There are too many questions. Will Newton, Fairley, or Adams (unlikely) go pro? How will Auburn finish on the recruiting trail?
Gene Chizik stated when he got hired that it would take three or four recruiting classes to get this team on a basis where they can compete for a title every year. It came in his second.
Only time will tell what will happen next season.