For a team to be consistently successful in the SEC requires a potent combination of talent infusion, effective coaching, and flawless execution on the field of play...It also requires a bit of a luck and favorable alignment of cosmic forces.
2011 is the year where western conference heavyweights LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas will jockey to be the inevitable SEC representative in the national title game, while the 2010 National Championship Auburn team will likely be competing for a spot in the “Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.”
However, the annual Tides shift quickly in the SEC (pun intended), and there are reasons to believe that this young Auburn team will be right back in the thick of the conference race come 2012.
It’s possible that there will be more talent on the Plains in 2012 than on any other team in Auburn history. This is when the impact of the back-to-back top five recruiting classes should kick in. Several of these young players are experiencing a trial by fire in 2011, becoming early starters and facing several top divisional opponents on the road, including Arkansas, LSU, and South Carolina.
In addition to developing young talent, several veterans will be returning who were key contributors on the 2010 National Championship team. They have experienced success and they will have become more seasoned leaders with another year under their belt. This list includes Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb (RBs), Nosa Eguae (DE), Emory Blake (WR), T’Sharvan Bell (CB), and Philip Lutzenkirchen (TE).
Over the past three years, Gus Malzahn has transformed Auburn’s identify from a solid defensive minded team with a strong running game into one of the most potent multidimensional offenses in college football.
Last December, Gus signed a multi-year contract extension that was valued at $1.3 million annually, making him one of the highest paid assistants in the game. AU fans know the clock is ticking with Gus and that he will eventually leave for greener pastures, but it became apparent when he turned down the Vanderbilt head coaching job last fall (worth at about $3 million annually), that he won’t leave for just any job, and that for now he is content to be the mad genius orchestrating Auburn’s offensive attack.
Remember when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit picked Auburn as a dark horse 2010 national title contender before most people had ever even heard of Cam Newton?
The main reason was because of the relatively favorable schedule Auburn faced, which included hosting the majority of its difficult opponents, including Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Clemson, and South Carolina at home.
The same dynamic exists in 2012, with Vanderbilt being added to the schedule, and South Carolina falling off. Of course, the Iron Bowl clash will be on the road, but it’s important to remember that AU has a winning record against the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Sr. QB Jarrett Lee
Several West powerhouses will be in 2012 where Auburn is in 2011…facing a brief period of rebuilding at key positions.
Nobody has more talent, and is quicker to rebuild, than LSU and Alabama. However, both programs will face uncertainties at key positions going into 2012.
LSU will lose Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at QB, handing the reins to the talented, yet unproven, Zach Mettenberger. Both starting Guards will graduate, and its possible that talented junior wide receiver Rueben Randle will declare early for the NFL draft.
Alabama will still be a relatively young team in 2012, but losing strong leaders such as Trent Richardson (RB) and Marquis Maze (WR) on offense, and Mark Barron (SS), Robert Lester (FS—junior) and Dre Kirkpatrick (CB—junior) on defense may lead to a relatively mediocre season for the Tide.
Arkansas will lose offensive firepower with the departure of senior wide receivers Joe Adams and Greg Childs, while Mississippi State will lose its powerful offensive tandem of QB Chris Relf and RB Vick Ballard, who have accounted for virtually all of MSU offense so far in 2011.
Auburn fans are already wistfully recalling the days where Cam Newton would effortlessly bound for electrifying 40 yard touchdown runs and overcome insurmountable odds to deliver nail biting victories on a weekly basis.
Well…good news is that they have Kiehl Frazier to look forward to. Kiehl needs time and experience, but he has all the tools to be successful.
Coming out Shiloh Christian in the Class of 2011, Kiehl was rated as one of the top dual threat QB prospects in the country…and some say the most highly touted high school recruit in Arkansas history.
Given his own ties to Arkansas high school football (and Shiloh in particular, where he used to coach), Gus Malzahn began recruiting Kiehl since he was in middle school, recognizing him as a perfect specimen to execute his “hurry up no huddle” offense.
Kiehl may not possess the athletic prowess of Cam Newton, but playing in Gus’s offense affords him the opportunity to be highly effective and just as successful as his Heisman trophy winning predecessor. As the 2011 progresses, fans will likely get to see more of what Kiehl can do.