The Auburn Tigers helped the SEC win its fifth consecutive BCS Championship Monday, knocking off the Oregon Ducks behind 329 all-purpose yards from quarterback Cam Newton and a remarkable run by running back Michael Dyer.
Dyer, a freshman, will return to the Tigers next season, but Newton is almost surely bound for the NFL Draft, where he projects as a top-15 pick. Like Oregon, Auburn was a veteran team in college terms and may lose a good number of its key contributors to the draft.
The team will still be talented enough to compete for an SEC and even national title, but they are certainly no sure bet to win either. Read on for an in-depth look at the 2010 Auburn Tigers, and their prospects for success in 2011.
Absolutely nothing is likely to keep Cam Newton at Auburn beyond this season. he has nothing more to prove—he is already the first quarterback since Matt Leinart to win the Heisman Trophy and the BCS Championship in the same season, and if he needs any more encouragement to go pro, he need only look at how Leinart's decision to return turned out.
Newton may be in San Francisco next season, or in Tennessee or in Minnesota. If he returns to Auburn, though, it will stun everyone.
With Newton departing, the Tigers need a new quarterback, and they have two candidates already in-house. Barrett Trotter is the more experienced option, a red shirt sophomore who saw the field for the first time in 2010 and compiled good stats (six completions in nine pass attempts for 64 yards, plus 68 yards on five rushes; he scored a rushing touchdown, too) as Newton's sparingly used backup.
For upside risk, though, the obvious choice is Clint Moseley. He played very little in his freshman season, rushing twice for eight yards in the Tigers' 52-3 romp over Louisiana-Monroe but otherwise riding the pine. He won Mr. Football in Alabama his senior season in high school, but he is not a five-star prospect. He profiles as a dual-threat quarterback, but not with the tools of Newton in either the passing or the running game.
If the Tigers are not content with Moseley or Trotter, they do have one more option. Auburn recruit Kiehl Frazier is a more dangerous, higher-ceiling kind of player, and ranks as a four-star recruit on Rivals.com.
Frazier led the Shiloh Christian Saints to their second straight Arkansas state title this season, and accounted for five total touchdowns in that game: He passed for two, ran for two and returned an interception for another. Coach Gene Chizik probably will not ask Frazier to play in the nickel packages anytime soon, but he may install his young phenom as the starting quarterback if he thinks Frazier is ready next season. It seems unlikely that he will be, so Moseley will probably start for at least one year.
If it was in fact possible, Nick Fairley gave one last boost to his draft stock with his performance in the title game. He recorded three tackles for loss, including a sack, forced a fumble and generally seemed to disrupt everything the Ducks tried to do. He will go among the top three picks in the April draft, and this performance may have been enough to make him the top overall selection.
Fairley was the heart of this defense, which was far from an elite group in the first place. Losing the best player on each side of the ball has to make Chizik and his staff nervous going forward.
Only a freshman, Michael Dyer did not receive workhorse treatment this season, arguably until the final game. In six of the team's 14 games, Dyer had fewer than 10 touches. He made only one reception all season, and that came in the first game of the year.
In the BCS Championship, though, with everything on the line, he rumbled for 143 yards on 22 carries and had the game's biggest play by far, a 37-yard game-changer on the final drive that left everyone dazed and confused.
Dyer will be back, of course, and at 215 pounds, he is solidly built to withstand as many carries as are necessary while the Tigers figure out their quarterback situation.
Darvin Adams would be a fool to enter the NFL Draft this season, with a field loaded with talented wide receivers and coming off a season in which his production actually sagged a bit. He might just do it, but it seems unlikely, so the real question is: How good can he be in 2011?
Adams has topped 950 receiving yards in two straight seasons, and honestly, he probably would have had an even better season in 2010 if not for Cam Newton's penchant for running and Newton's desire to spread the ball around. Adams should be a safety blanket for whomever the Tigers install as quarterback next season, so look for him to emerge as one of the NCAA's top playmakers.
Senior linebacker Josh Bynes will not be back next season, and given the number of plays he made as an inside linebacker for the team this season, that is no small loss. Bynes tallied 71 tackles, one sack and three interceptions this year.
Harris Gaston, who played hardly at all this season but is built much like Bynes and has the skills to succeed in Bynes' vacated role as a drop coverage specialist, will be ready to step into the breach, but that hardly makes Tigers fans feel exceptionally at ease.
Brent Calloway, the Tigers' only five-star recruit on Rivals.com this season, committed just days ago at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He stands 6' 1", and while he weighs just 210 pounds right now, scouts suggest he will pack on muscle and become an elite edge rusher at outside linebacker. Even if that does not happen, he could be a very productive and intimidating safety.
Quan Bray, who played quarterback throughout high school but will be a running back or receiver at Auburn, chose the Tigers over SEC rivals Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Florida. He is a supremely talented and potentially lethal athlete.
Too often, coaches at this level bolt for greener pastures as soon as their gravy train types (Newton, Tim Tebow, etc.) head to the next level. That simultaneous loss of both talent and leadership can set programs back for a period of years, but the Tigers need not worry about it in this case. Gene Chizik is not going anywhere, and his recruiting and football IQ will ensure the team remains at least competitive.
Although they certainly will not be the favorites entering next season, the Tigers are a great team with still plenty of talented players and a patient, intelligent coach. They have a lot of competition in the SEC, but a repeat of their conference championship is by no means out of the question.
All in all, expect this team to lose perhaps two or three games in 2011, play (and likely win) a New Year's Day bowl, and gear up for another run at the national title with a more experienced squad in 2012.