Auburn Tigers Football: 5 Players Who Are Key to 2011 Season
The Auburn Tigers are feeling slighted and rightly so. After a national championship and Heisman trophy, they were ranked 23rd in the AP Preseason poll. Most defending champions are ranked in the top 10, at minimum.
The Tigers have 19 new starters this year, though, and are fairly young so the ranking is justified.
The Tigers will need to see big contributions from several players, both young and old to move up the polls and contend for a BCS bowl birth.
These are the five guys who the Tigers' season relies on.
Onterio McCalebb, RB
If the season were to start today (it starts tomorrow, so theoretically a lot could change) Onterio McCalebb would be the starting running back. That does not mean that he will receive the bulk of the carries.
Michael Dyer had an undisclosed injury which kept him out of practice. McCalebb might be a spot starter for week one only.
Either way, McCalebb will look to improve upon an 810 yard, nine touchdown season. McCalebb had an amazing 8.5 yards per carry last season which will be hard to replicate.
The running game will be the focus this offseason and McCalebb will need to continue to be a speedster, whether starting or not.
Neiko Thorpe, S
Neiko Thorpe shifted from cornerback to safety this season.
The moves puts the Tigers' most experienced defender at a new position. While Thorpe should excel in the role, his importance will mostly be felt as a mentor to the rest of the secondary.
Thorpe was the third leading tackler on the Tigers, so safety is a natural position. While not a great pass defender, moving him to safety allows him to be a help defender rather than a cover cornerback which should help.
The Tigers need Thorpe's knowledge more than his performance, though. For a young defense in the SEC, his leadership will be critical to Auburn's success.
Gabe Wright, DT
Gabe Wright is not listed as a starter heading into Week 1 of the college football season, but that doesn't mean he won't be shortly.
Wright was the No. 1 defensive tackle in SBNation.com's recruiting rankings last season. With such a young defensive line, it would not be a surprise for him to not only get tons of repetitions. It also would not be a surprise for him to sneak into the starting lineup shortly.
The obvious importance of a defensive tackle is that, in the SEC especially, they need to be able to take up space and free up the linebackers to make plays. With a having dose of running coming from Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard, Brandon Bolden and the rest of the SEC, Wright better be ready.
Barrett Trotter, QB
Replacing Heisman trophy winner and campus legend Cam Newton will not be an easy task.
Barrett Trotter is used to things coming to him the hard way and having to work for what he wants. Trotter has had to wait for his junior year to start. He will relish the opportunity.
Teammates describe Trotter as being "even-keeled" and "composed." He will need to be as a quarterback in the SEC.
Trotter does not need to set the world on fire and no one is expecting him to. If he can be average, he will relieve pressure off the running game and make Dyer and McCalebb's life a whole lot easier.
Michael Dyer, RB
Michael Dyer is the reigning offensive MVP from the BCS Championship. That is saying something considering his competition was Cam Newton (not that Newton had a great game).
Dyer was out for most of the past month. That means he will likely be used sparingly until he is in game shape.
Dyer is a bruising running back who is already a Heisman candidate. While he will split time with Onterio McCalebb, Dyer's downhill style and explosiveness will likely favor him in Heisman voters' eyes.
If Dyer can truly put up Heisman-worthy numbers, the Tigers should be better than the 23rd best team in the Nation.