Auburn has a ton of question marks that follow it into the 2011 season. Can the Tigers answer those and win the West two years in a row?
There is not a predictor in the college football world that is giving the Tigers a chance at the West this season, however, the Tigers count on winning and plan on doing it no matter what anyone else seems to think.
The Western Division of the SEC has more teams in the top 25 than any other conference in the FBS. That in and of itself describes not only the respect for these teams nationally but the level of athletes that are found at these institutions this coming season.
Auburn is among the five that are ranked entering the season. The Tigers come in at No. 19 in the coach’s poll and No. 23 in the AP poll. They are the lowest ranking SEC team entering the first week of the season.
Why the Tigers won’t win the division
The Tigers will face a tough road this season, and they face one of the toughest months in the country during October. The Tigers have three road games in October against South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU. Those three games will be a gauntlet.
The Auburn Tigers only return six total starters on both sides of the ball this fall. There are a number of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who will make impacts this fall for the Tigers. Auburn is hoping that those impacts are positive more often than they are negative.
Auburn is replacing its largest senior class in football history this season as well. The Tigers are doing it with 70 percent of the team having been signed to scholarships just two years ago or less.
Why the Tigers can win the division
So with all these obvious issues and questions that surround this team, how could anyone assume that there is a reasonable possibility for the Tigers to win the SEC West? Nobody has the opinion that Auburn will repeat, but there is always a possibility in the parody latent world of college football.
Auburn brings a very talented defensive backfield to the table this fall that is being heavily overlooked. The Tigers played a wealth of true freshmen last season and it showed. The good news is that the Tigers were able to build depth and find playmakers to build a defense around this fall.
Players like Chris Davis, Demetruce McNeal and T’Sharvan Bell became recognizable names as the season drew to a close and began to become major players in Auburns defense. Auburn will continue to grow in the defensive secondary and should finish the season with a very potent unit.
Auburn also brings some experienced linebackers to the field this fall. Eltoro Freeman is a rising senior and has the talent to be an All-American if he can play consistently this fall. Daren Bates is a rising junior who started as a freshman at safety and moved to linebacker last season.
Bates brings experience and tenacity to the game and will be a leader on the defense for the Tigers this season.
Auburn will also bring some experience to the offensive side of the ball this fall as well. Auburn returns the best running back tandem in the conference and possibly the country as Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb return this season.
The Tigers have a wealth of talent in the receiving corps and will look to Philip Lutzenkirchen and Emory Blake to help guide the inexperienced players along this season. Auburn will have a potent deep threat and will use the short passing game this year often to help move the chains. They will have the talent to do this extremely effectively.
The offensive line for the Tigers is also more experienced than they are getting credit for, but I would still put the offensive and defensive lines as weaknesses for the Tigers at this point in the preseason. There are numerous playmakers that will be extremely impactful for the defensive line from the defensive end positions, but the interior has some major concerns.
Auburn’s coaching staff is one more major positive for the Tigers that could help them attain their goal of championships this season. Auburn has an extremely talented recruiting coaching staff, but they also have very technically savvy coaches as well.
This staff is very talented and took a team that was 5-7 and made them an 8-5 bowl game winner. The very next season they won the national championship. Winning the way that Chizik and his staff have to this point can’t be just the Jimmies and the Joes but also some of the x’s and o’s that go with good coaching.
This coaching staff is also a very grounded group. It is rare form to see anyone from the staff flustered or unmanaged on the sideline. Maintaining a consistently calm sideline and demeanor played a large part in Auburn’s ability to come from behind time and again in 2010.
That same demeanor will help guide young and emotional players that are dealing with the swings of ups and downs that come with college football.
So how can the Tigers win the West?
The depth issues are obvious and the concerns are clear when talking about the Auburn Tigers in 2011. Despite the issues and questions all over the field and the lack of returning starters, the Tigers have a wealth of talent and will have a solid gameplan Saturday after Saturday this fall.
If the Tigers can earn their stripes early and avoid crucial mental breakdowns, they can likely manage the ebb and flow of momentum that is sure to come with the season.
This team will play extremely emotional for better or for worse simply because of the youth. The younger players are going to get caught up in the gameday atmosphere and the blown assignments that they make the play before. How the coaching staff gets its players to ride the emotions of the game will go a long way in determining their success.
Will Auburn win the Western Division and repeat as SEC champions this season? The reality is that it is highly unlikely. The Tigers are very close to having a very special season however and have the chance to keep themselves in the running for the division until the final week of the season.
How the Tigers finish against Mississippi State will go a long way to determine the type of season you can expect from the Auburn Tigers.