Auburn Football 2011: Reading the Tea Leaves as Spring Practice Comes to an End

Dan GruczaContributor IApril 18, 2011

Auburn running back Michael Dyer
Auburn running back Michael DyerRonald Martinez/Getty Images

The defending BCS National Champion Auburn Tigers have concluded their spring practice. Coaches are giving exit interviews to the players as they prepare for summer workouts and defend their title next fall.

While many national writers are predicting doom and gloom for the Tigers, there is plenty of optimism around those closest to the program.

Many are comparing this years squad to the 2005 version of the Auburn Tigers and others are making comparison to the 2009 Tigers, Coach Gene Chizik's first year on the Plains.


Comparison to the 2005 Tigers

Why it is fair:

  • both squads were coming off an undefeated season
  • both squads had to replace many stars to the NFL Draft—Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell
  • both squads had a new starting quarterback that had been in the program for a few years but never started a game
  • both squads were looking at trips to LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia
  • the preseason AP Poll had the Tigers at No. 16 and the Coaches Poll had the Tigers at No. 15

Why it is not fair:

  • the 2005 Tigers started the year with Tre Smith and Carl Stewart as the top two running backs and the 2011 Tigers have proven stars in Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb
  • the 2005 Tigers had to replace Gene Chizik as Defensive Coordinator with David Gibbs and the 2011 Tigers return Head Coach Gene Chizik and Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof is back for his third year
  • the 2011 Tigers have been stockpiled with young talent after back to back Top Ten national recruiting classes while the 2005 Tigers had mostly 3-star recruits
  • the 2005 Tigers had South Carolina at home as well as a non-conference matchup with ACC foe Georgia Tech at home while the 2011 Tigers will have to travel to Columbia, SC and take on ACC foe Clemson in Death Valley
  • the 2005 Tigers had to replace 10 starters and the 2011 Tigers will have to replace 15
  • the 2005 Tigers returned both kicker John Vaughn and punter Kody Bliss while the 2011 Tigers will have to replace Wes Byrum and Ryan Shoemaker


Comparison to the 2009 Tigers

Why it is fair:

  • both squads will have a new starting quarterback
  • the 2009 Tigers had to replace leading receivers Rod Smith and Montez Billings and the 2011 Tigers will have to replace Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery
  • plenty of unknowns entering the season
  • trips to LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia for both teams and the 2009 Tigers had to face Tennessee in Knoxville while this year the Tigers will head to Columbia to face South Carolina

Why it is not fair:

  • with the exception of Defensive Line Coach Mike Pelton, this is the third year for this staff; Gus Malzahn has had three springs to install his offense and Ted Roof three springs to install his defense compared to their first year
  • except for the Sporting News who had Auburn at No. 23 in the preseason poll, the Tigers were nowhere to be found in preseason top 25 polls
  • while Ben Tate is comparable to Michael Dyer, junior Onterrio McCalebb is much better than the freshman Onterrio McCalleb
  • the 2009 team came off a losing season and an embarrasing loss in Tuscaloosa while the 2011 team is coming off a BCS National Championship and a historical comeback win in Tuscaloosa
  • the 2011 squad is stockpiled with 4-star and 5-star recruits while the 2009 squad was feeling the effects of a letdown in recruiting by Coach Tommy Tuberville
  • this year the Tigers have to travel to Clemson for a non-conference game while the 2009 team played a non-conference game at home against West Virginia

Looking at the comparisons, it is obvious that the 2011 version of the Tigers will most likely resemble the 2005 Tigers that lost only two regular season games, their season opener at home against Georgia Tech and then an overtime loss against LSU on the road. 

Both teams are coming off undefeated seasons and had to replace many stars. Both teams are overlooked by the national media and had more talent than given credit. Both teams had experienced coaching staffs that had installed a system and were in a position of reloading and not rebuilding.

The 2011 Tigers have a tougher schedule but they also have more depth, talent, and overall better coaching.

I really do not understand why so many are comparing this team to the 2009 Tigers and Gene Chizik's first year other than they view it as a major rebuilding job.

As stated above, those who know the Tigers the best know that they will be reloading with some big time talent and not rebuilding next year.

So reading the tea leaves, early indications are that the 2011 Tigers will be much more like the 2005 Tigers—overlooked in the preseason but will have a strong season and will be contending for the SEC Title once again.