Auburn Football 2011: An Early Look At the Challengers To the SEC Throne

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Auburn Football 2011: An Early Look At the Challengers To the SEC Throne
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The 2010 college football season is now in the books. There is already all kinds of speculation over what team will be on top of the preseason polls for the 2011 season. It seems fans will never learn.

The top five in the 2010 preseason polls were:

AP Poll

  1. Alabama (finished No. 10)
  2. Ohio State (finished No. 5)
  3. Boise State (finished No. 9)
  4. Florida (finished unranked)
  5. Texas (finished unranked)

Coaches' Poll

  1. Alabama (finished No. 11)
  2. Ohio State (finished No. 5)
  3. Florida (finished unranked)
  4. Texas (finished unranked)
  5. Boise State (finished No. 7)

Oklahoma seems to be the favorite right now after accumulating two losses in its conference that was very weak in 2010. One of those losses was to Texas A&M, and they return a much better team in 2011 that beat Oklahoma in 2010. This prognostication is based on an unimpressive win over a five-loss Connecticut team that should not have been in a bowl, especially a BCS bowl.

Alabama seems to have crawled its way back into the top five of most prognosticators. It is ahead of an LSU team that beat them in 2010 and returns more key players. The reason for this is that LSU has quarterback issues. This is funny considering that Alabama does not return its quarterback at all. It also loses its best receiver and only effective defensive lineman.

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This is just part of what makes college football so much fun. Even though there is about an 80 percent chance that the SEC will once again win the BCS, no current prognosticator has an SEC team as the preseason favorite. This is due to the simple fact that the SEC has five or six teams that could easily win it all in 2011.

In 2010 the preseason theory on the current BCS champion was that they were untalented and would lose four or five games. They have now won 15 games in a row. That untalented team was full of players selected on All-American Teams and had the Heisman winner, the Lombardi winner and winners of various other awards.

The same prognosticators that made last season’s “accurate” assessments of the SEC are now saying that with Cameron Newton and Nick Fairley gone, Auburn has no talent once again. Remember, these are the same brilliant people that said the Tigers had no replacement for Ben Tate, Chris Todd and Antonio Coleman for 2011.

With so many people willing to step out and make their highly educated prognostications on the coming season in college football, it seemed a good time to put a humble opinion out there so that it can be laughed at later as well.

Before we continue, Auburn fans await the decision of Nick Fairley as it pertains to the NFL draft. Cameron Newton declared his intentions to enter the NFL draft Thursday evening.

All Auburn fans owe these two young men a debt of gratitude for an incredible effort last season. We all wish them well and hope that they make the decision that is right for them. They should not worry about Auburn if they decide to move on with their careers; there are others that will step up and deliver in their absence.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If they choose to stay, they will be welcomed with the same open arms that will always welcome them on the plains. They are truly Auburn men and will be no matter where they are.

 

Initial Observations on the 2011 SEC

Auburn

To be the best, a team must beat the best. For the last 15 games this has been the Auburn Tigers. They have the longest winning streak in FBS football with 15 continuous victories without a loss. This will again be a formidable team in 2011 and will be a favorite in contention for the SEC.

It is very likely the SEC will be decided on October 22, 2011 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when the Tiger bowl will see what promises to be another ground-shaker. Auburn will have already played Clemson, Arkansas and South Carolina in difficult road games. They should have an edge in all of these games, and if they get to October 22 unscathed, look for them to be very formidable in this game.

 

What we do know

Auburn will be replacing a veteran offensive line with some of the best talent recruited in the nation over the last two years.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Two veteran linebackers will have to be replaced with players from one of the best linebacker classes recruited in the 2010 class.

The team will be building depth in the defensive backfield from some of the best defensive backs recruited in the 2011 class.

The defensive line will need more depth at defensive tackle. This depth will come from some very dominant talent from the 2011 recruiting class.

Auburn still needs two running backs to build depth at the position. Gus Malzahn likes to pound the rock 50 or so times per game. This is simply too much for two running backs to handle. A couple of true freshmen will have to step up and deliver.

Auburn will again have a top 10 recruiting class to draw talent from. Just like Nick Fairley came from the 2009 class and Cameron Newton came from the 2010 class, there will be players expected to step it up from the 2011 class.

Early Prediction: 11-2 to 9-4

 

LSU

This is a very formidable team that actually has all of the questions answered for 2011. They are the most likely favorite for the coming season. They lost only a few players and have their replacements on the team and in place. Auburn must play them in Baton Rouge, and that is never easy. This will be a key game in the SEC for 2011.

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LSU will have a new offensive coordinator. This will likely make this an even stronger team in 2011. With a little luck, of which there seems to be no shortage in Baton Rouge, this team could make a run at the BCS title.

Early Prediction: 11-2 to 9-4

 

Alabama

Alabama has to replace its quarterback, best receiver, defensive line, etc.... While some have been impressed with their talent at quarterback, there is little reason to expect even close to the production of 2010 from this position. Many SEC teams have found a way to stop the Alabama rushing game and have the talent to do exactly that.

They must find a way to beat an LSU team that beat them in 2010 and is a year more experienced and had fewer holes to fill. They do play them at home, but they were both outplayed and out-coached in 2010; LSU has the edge here. This game comes on November 5, 2011, and both Alabama and LSU will be coming off open weeks prior to the game.

They will also have to go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and try to take down the Auburn Tigers. They had a lot of trouble doing this with one of their best teams in history and eventual BCS champions in 2009. It is unlikely they will be able to pull this off in 2011. This is always one of the best games in college football and will occur on November 26, 2011. Auburn has an off week prior to this game; Alabama plays Georgia Southern the week prior.

Alabama will have a new offensive line coach. On the surface, this appears to be a step back for the Tide. Only time will tell.

Will the 2011 SEC Champion also have a Heisman Winner?

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Early Prediction: 10-3 to 9-4

 

Arkansas

The Hogs replace a great quarterback and some position players but have adequate talent on the team to do so. If Arkansas expects to take a step up in the SEC, it will need to come from upgrades in the 2011 recruiting class. They are currently ranked No. 18 by ESPN, and this is a step up for them at this point.

They play Auburn at home in 2011 but must play LSU and Alabama away, and this will be difficult indeed. Both Auburn and Alabama will have improved defensive backfields, and LSU will have an improved offensive unit.

Early Prediction: 9-4 to 8-5

 

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs only need replace a few position players in 2011. So far their recruiting has not been stellar for the 2011 class. This will have to be remedied if they are to challenge any of the above teams in the coming season. They play Alabama and LSU at home but must play Arkansas and Auburn away.

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This is a team that will have a new defensive coordinator. It is unlikely this will be a step up from the coordinator it had.

Early Prediction: 9-4 to 8-5

 

Georgia

This was quite simply a poorly coached team in 2010. They quite literally stunk up the field as a unit. It is going far out on a limb to put them here, but they have the talent on the roster to be several slots above.

This is a crossroads year for Georgia and will likely decide the fate of their head coach. Georgia will have trouble beating Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida. They have the least challenging schedule in the SEC, which should help.

Early Prediction: 8-5

 

Florida

New staff, fresh start for the Gators—this is a team loaded with talent. With a first-year head coach, it will be difficult to beat Alabama, LSU and Auburn; they will likely drop either the South Carolina or Georgia game as well. This is a rebuilding year for the Gators, but they will be a very dangerous team.

What team will win the west?

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Early Prediction: 8-5—this is a wild card team that could do much better if the pieces come together.

 

South Carolina

This one is easy to predict: four or five regular season losses followed by a disappointing, unprepared bowl performance. This has been the pattern for several years now; there is little reason to expect it to change.

Early Prediction: 8-5

 

Tennessee

This is the second year of a rebuilding process for the Vols. They are well on their way to recovery and will return to their traditional winning ways.

Early Prediction: 7-6 to 8-5

 

The 2011 SEC football schedule can be viewed here.

 

Conclusion

The SEC West will be lights out again in 2011 with the SEC East improving but still weak. While South Carolina did win the SEC East in 2010, they did it by being the same as they always are. With Georgia and Florida expected to improve, it is unlikely that trend will continue.

While LSU currently shows the most promise in the West, Auburn remains on top until someone beats them. These are two teams that find a way to win, and that could be the most important factor of all.

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