In 2010, the Auburn Tigers went on a magical journey from a once-proud program that had hit the skids to the top of the college football world.
The Tigers have college football's 13th most wins, but a lack of national titles and a recent run of mediocrity, added to the fact they're in the same state as the Alabama Crimson Tide, made many believe Auburn had become a mediocre football program. One 14-0, Heisman-and-BCS-Title-grabbing season changed that perception pretty well. The Tigers beat Oregon to win their second national title ever, the only other coming in 1957.
It's well-documented, however, that the 2011 season isn't supposed to be exactly the great ride for Auburn fans that it was in 2010.
The following is a list of players from last season's team that are no longer with Chizik's club:
- QB Cam Newton (Reason: NFL Draft)
- DT Nick Fairley (Reason: NFL Draft)
- WR Darvin Adams (Reason: NFL Draft)
- QB Neil Caudle (Reason: Graduation)
- RB Mario Fannin (Reason: Graduation)
- RB Eric Smith (Reason: Violation of team rules)
- WR Shaun Kitchens (Reason: Violation of team rules)
- WR Terrell Zachery (Reason: Graduation)
- WR Kodi Burns (Reason: Graduation)
- WR Philip Pierre-Louis (Reason: Left team)
- WR Derek Winter (Reason: Left team)
- WR Antonio Goodwin (Reason: Violation of team rules)
- TE Robert Cooper (Reason: Left team)
- TE Dakota Mosley (Reason: Violation of team rules)
- OL Ryan Pugh (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Lee Ziemba (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Byron Isom (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Bart Eddins (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Mike Berry (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Jorrell Bostrom (Reason: Graduation)
- OL Andre Harris (Reason: Left team)
- DT Zac Clayton (Reason: Graduation)
- DT Mike Blanc (Reason: Graduation)
- DE Antoine Carter (Reason: Graduation)
- DE Michael Goggans (Reason: Graduation)
- LB Josh Bynes (Reason: Graduation)
- LB Craig Stevens (Reason: Graduation)
- LB Jessel Curry (Reason: Left team)
- CB Demond Washington (Reason: Graduation)
- CB Woody Parramore (Reason: Graduation)
- S Zac Ethridge (Reason: Graduation)
- S Mike McNeil (Reason: Violation of team rules)
- S Aairon Savage (Reason: Graduation)
- K Wes Byrum (Reason: Graduation)
- P Ryan Shoemaker (Reason: Graduation)
The Tigers return only six starters from last year's team. Despite bringing in the nation's top recruiting class (according to Scout), Auburn likely won't be able to heal the wounds of 35 lost players from 2010, nearly half of them starters. The Tigers have plenty of talent, sure. But that talent is extremely raw, as they have little experience.
Another thing working against Auburn in 2011 is a tougher schedule. While the Iron Bowl returns to the Plains, Auburn must face Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia on the road while hosting always-tough Florida and surging Mississippi State. Add this with the Tigers losing 34 players and having the target on their back as reigning national champions and, well, results aren't good for the Tigers.
Auburn should make a bowl game in 2011, but a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game is just about out of the question. A great season for Auburn in 2011 would be about eight wins.
I'll just say this to Auburn fans (like myself) now. Not many people are more optimistic than I am, but don't expect big success in 2011. Most Auburn fans feel this way, but to those dihards out there who expect Auburn to be 14-0, I'm telling you now: drastically lower expectations. Save yourself the heartbreak of the first loss since the 2009 Iron Bowl. Back-to-back national titles.... it's just not going to happen.
However, if this makes you think the future of Tigers football isn't bright, then let me clarify—it's the opposite.
2011 might not be that grand for Auburn. Heck, Phil Steele picks the Tigers to finish last in the SEC West. I don't see that dramatic of a drop, but there will be a drop-off. But 2012 looks, if anything, promising for the Auburn Tigers.
What works in the Tigers' favor in 2012?
1. The results of three straight top recruiting classes will surely show.
Auburn brought in the nation's fifth-best recruiting class in 2010, and in 2011 Gene Chizik and company brought in the No. 1 rated class by many, especially after Florida signee RB Mike Blakeley transferred to Auburn in May. Auburn is hot in recruiting right now and another top class is just about inevitable.
The only freshmen that made a big impact for Auburn in 2010 were RB Mike Dyer, DE Craig Sanders and CB Demetruce McNeal. By 2012, these will be experienced guys, and all the members of the 2011 class will have experience as well. The Tigers will be loaded with pure talent by 2012.
2. A great starting line-up.
Here is my projected starting line-up for Auburn in 2012:
Kiehl Frazier (Key Backup: Barrett Trotter)
|Running Back||Mike Dyer (Key Backups: Onterio McCalebb, Mike Blakely, Tre Mason and T.J. Yeldon)|
|Wide Receiver||Emory Blake (Key Backups: Quan Bray and JaQuay Williams)|
|Wide Receiver||Trovon Reed (Key Backups: Travante Stallworth)|
|Wide Receiver||DeAngelo Benton (Key Backup: Jaylon Denson)|
|Tight End/Fullback||Phillip Lutzenkirchen (Key Backups: Ricky Parks and Ladarious Phillips)|
|Right Tackle||Aubrey Phillips (Key Backup: Shane Callahan)|
|Right Guard||Eric Mack (Key Backup: Chad Slade)|
|Center||Blake Burgess (Key Backup/Potential Starter: Reese Dismukes)|
|Left Guard||John Sullen (Key Backup: Shon Coleman)|
|Left Tackle||Christian Westerman (Key Backup: Greg Robinson)|
|Defensive End||Corey Lemonier (Key Backup: Dee Ford)|
|Defensive Tackle||Jeffrey Whitaker (Key Backup: Gabe Wright)|
|Defensive Tackle||Kenneth Carter (Key Backup: Jamar Travis)|
|Defensive End||Nosa Eguae (Key Backup: Craig Sanders)|
|Outside Linebacker||Daren Bates (Key Backup: Kris Frost)|
|Middle Linebacker||Jake Holland (Key Backup: Harris Gaston)|
|Outside Linebacker||Jonathan Evans (Key Backup: LaDarious Owens)|
|Cornerback||Jonathan Rose (Key Backup: Chris Davis)|
|Free Safety||Erique Florence (Key Backup: Ryan Smith)|
|Strong Safety||Demetruce McNeal (Key Backups: Ikeem Means and Drew Cole)|
|Cornerback||T'Sharvan Bell (Key Backup: Jonathan Mincy)|
Needless to say, the starting lineup will be the most talented Chizik has had yet, which is saying a lot seeing as the 2010 lineup included Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Lee Ziemba and Zac Clayton, all players who were drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.
As for special teams, the starting kicker and punter in 2012 should be Cody Parkey and Steven Clark, respectively.
3. The schedule is tough.... but not too tough.
The 2012 season begins with a bang in what will surely be an anticipated game.
After this big season opener, the Tigers get to play hosts to Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt. The road schedule takes the Tigers to Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama, who will likely be in rebuilding mode in 2012, rather than contending for the national championship. The schedule, as always in the SEC, is rough... but it's easier than the 2011 schedule.
4. Guess who's back?
Auburn offensive lineman Shon Coleman will be back for the 2012 season... and his status will be as a true freshman, thanks to his medical scholarship. In the spring of 2010, he left his teammates after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Fortunately, he has overcome it and is cancer-free, thank God. Concerning his football career, he won't be able to play in 2011, but he'll be back in 2012. You see, for every reason there is to dislike 2011, there is a reason to like 2012.
2012: Proof that Auburn is in its best era ever?
As if winning the national title in 2010 wasn't enough, from 2012 and beyond, the Tigers will be loaded on both sides of the ball and will likely be national title contenders every year. And this possibly-dominant run begins on September 1, 2012, in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Clemson. Are you ready?