Congratulations Auburn, you won a national championship. As an Alabama student, that was pretty hard for me to even write, but I feel as though a little credit is deserved. Auburn had a remarkable year filled with come-from-behind wins, electrifying plays, a perfect season, a Coach of the Year, All-Americans, a Heisman trophy and of course, a national championship.
The 2010 season was a year to remember for fans chanting War Eagle for a number of reasons, but if I was them, I wouldn’t be so excited for next season, and here’s why:
1. Cam Newton Will Not Be There
Cam Newton was without a doubt the best player in the nation last year. It was actually weird watching him struggle at times during the National Championship because we’ve all be accustomed to him completely dominating everyone. Newton was a surprise commit to Auburn coming out of JUCO, as most expected him to enroll at Mississippi State, but nevertheless chose the Plains to play college ball.
Take Newton off the 2010 Auburn team with all of his talents and comeback magic, and Auburn could easily be a four-loss team. With him gone, who will step up? Barrett Trotter? Kiehl Frazier? Expect a dropoff Auburn fans, a huge dropoff.
How many wins will Auburn finish with in 2011?
2. Nick Fairley Will Not Be There
It’s very rare to see a team have the best offensive player in the nation, as well as the best defensive player in the nation, but somehow Auburn pulled off the coup d'état. Fairley deserves as much praise as Newton for Auburn’s 2010 success, for he was dominant in every game of the season.
It seemed like he was in on every play in the Alabama and Oregon games, as well as the whole year, whether it was making key tackles for loss, sacking the quarterback, forcing fumbles, recovering fumbles, or even both (did so against Bama on one play).
Fairley should be the top pick in the draft in my opinion, for his quickness off the line is unparalleled, along with his playmaking ability. He could very well end up being the next Warren Sapp.
With all that being said, take him out of the picture, and there’s no way another player on Auburn’s roster could even come close to replicating what he was able to accomplish on the field.
3. Not Sold on Gene Chizik and Company
Gene Chizik couldn’t have asked for an easier year. I’m pretty sure that if Cam Newton was still on Florida, Urban Meyer would be “retiring” with another ring on his finger: Newton’s that good. Along with strong veteran leadership and a come-from-nowhere superstar in Fairley, Chizik probably got a good 10 hours a sleep a night with no worries.
Who will win the SEC in 2011?
Sure, Auburn came from behind in a bunch of games, but c’mon, how much of that was because of the coaches, and not Cam being Cam? This is a staff that took a talented team last year to an 8-5 record, while going 3-5 in conference play with and a less-than-quality win against non-conference West Virginia. Oh, and the Tigers beat Northwestern in their bowl game. In overtime. Enough said.
Yes, it was Chizik's first year in Auburn, but it’s not like Tommy Tuberville left them in a bad spot. While I must agree Gus Malzahn is a very creative coach, the SEC last year proved that his offense could be shut down if they don’t have a quarterback named Cam Newton.
4. Auburn Will Be Very Young
Along with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley's departures, Mario Fannin, Terrell Zachery, Kodi Burns, Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom, Wes Byrum, Antoine Carter, Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton, Michael Goggans, Josh Bynes, Demond Washington, Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Ryan Shoemaker are all players that heavily contributed to Auburn’s success and will all be gone.
Losing that much talent and depth is a little alarming if you’re an Auburn fan, but in my opinion, the most important is the loss of four of five offensive line starters. What may go unnoticed is that Auburn will have to replace kicker Wes Byrum, Auburn’s all-time leading points scorer. How they will overcome this personnel adversity is the biggest question mark heading into the season.
5. Who Will Be the Leader?
Cam Newton did an unbelievable job leading this team, but it wasn’t just him; there was a plethora of strong leadership on Auburn’s veteran roster, and replacing that will be harder than one may think. It was the leadership that prompted the Tigers' come-from-behind wins against Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and Alabama, as well as close games against LSU and Arkansas.
I believe Darvin Adams and Michael Dyer need to emerge as the leaders of the team with not only their expected strong play, but their roles in the locker room. That needs to start as soon as now.
Auburn has recruited well since Gene Chizik took over, but the youth and inexperience will be the Achilles heel for the Tigers in this upcoming season. For a team that played with a bend-but-don't-break mentality on a defense with poor secondary play, it will be interesting to see if Ted Roof can bring back a strong, traditional Auburn defense, or if he’ll just rely on one great front line and lucky breaks.
Replacing Wes Byrum is going to hurt more than one would think, and the Tigers' special teams coverage was already below average to begin with, so special teams improvement could be a serious factor in determining Auburn’s 2011 success.
I also the Tigers' dirty play will catch up with them in the upcoming season. They are already pegged as a dirty team, and were flagged throughout the season with personal fouls.
Barrett Trotter will be the opening day starter, but by the end of the year he will be replaced with Kiehl Frazier.
Michael Dyer will be the team's MVP, rushing for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The offense won’t click like it did last year due to serious inexperience at offensive line and quarterback.
The defense will be decent, but will prove to be vulnerable during SEC play.
The team will finish the regular season with a 6-6 record, beating Utah State, Mississippi State, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, Samford and Georgia, and losing to Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Alabama. Good news is that they’ll barely make a bowl game and beat an awful team like Western Kentucky.
Final record: 7-6
Not bad for a team losing basically everyone coming off a national championship squad. A 3-5 SEC record is as expected, with a non-conference loss at Clemson. It’s not good Auburn fans, but it could be worse.
Good luck next year, you’ll certainly need it.