The Auburn Tigers' 2011 season was a letdown compared to an undefeated 2010, but that was to be expected. Auburn still made a bowl game and can end the year with a winning record, despite losing many key performers from their BCS championship-winning team.
Here are five players who surprised in 2011 and five who will need to step up in 2012 if the Tigers are going to return to a BCS bowl. Auburn will close out the season on December 31 when they face Virginia in the Chik-fil-A Bowl.
Dyer lived up to expectations and then some, earning first-team All-SEC honors after his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Some felt that Dyer could take a step back in 2011 with a new offensive line and Cam Newton in the NFL, but he emerged as Auburn’s most consistent offensive weapon.
Dyer could be a Heisman candidate next year if Auburn plays well. It will likely be his last year as a Tiger before heading to the NFL.
Lemonier was expected to a breakout player on the defnsive line, but he exceeded expecations by earning second-team All-SEC honors.
The sophmore defensive end ranked second in the SEC with 9.5 sacks and was one of the few impact players on a disappointing Auburn defense. Lemonier should be one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers once again in 2012.
Frazier’s overall level of play was not that surprising, but it was a surprise that he saw the field at all. Most expected the freshman to redshirt after losing out on the starting quarterback spot, but Frazier saw the field against Utah State and went on to play in all 12 games.
Frazier mostly saw time as a Wildcat quarterback, rushing for 272 yards and a touchdown. He only attempted 12 passes, but should challenge for the starting job in 2012 with some game experience under his belt.
Freeman had an up and down career, but he finally showed his full potential over the last half of the season. Freeman took over as the starting middle linebacker and finished fourth with 54 tackles.
It seemed likely that many had given up on Freeman, who totaled just eight tackles heading into the Arkansas game. Although Auburn’s defense had a disappointing season overall, Freeman putting consistent efforts together was a bright spot.
Clark took over as the starting punter in his sophomore year, and emerged as one of the best in the country. He is one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, and the only representative from the SEC.
Clark was named first-team All-SEC by the coaches this week. The Tigers look to be set at punter for the next two seasons with Clark’s big leg taking the snaps.
Roof has been under fire this year as Auburn’s defense has struggled to stop the run or the pass with much consistency.
The blame may not solely fall on Roof’s schemes, as the Tigers were a young team this year with few returning starters, but improvement will be expected in 2012.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job heading into next season will have high expectations.
Next year’s starter will feel the pressure to improve on this year’s production, which came nowhere near the level of Cam Newton. The Tigers failed to throw for more than 200 yards in a game after the season opener against Utah State.
Whether it’s Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier or a newcomer to the program, the expectations will be the same. The Tigers will need much better play out of their quarterback next season if they are going to contend in the SEC.
When Blake went out with an injury midway through the season, the Tigers’ deep passing attack was simply ineffective. Onterio McCalebb and Phil Lutzenkirchen are good safety valves, but Auburn needs more effective play from the wideouts next season.
The onus will be on player like Travante Stallworth, Quan Bray, and DeAngelo Benton to develop over the offseason into consistent pass catchers. If they can’t step up, then the Auburn passing game will struggle again.
Mason looked to be a gamebreaker early in the season as a return man, but he was eventually slowed by injuries and turnovers and lost his job as the kick returner. He also did not make much of an impact breaking into the running back rotation.
Next season, Mason will need to step up and be a more consistent return man, and also start to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball. Michael Dyer won’t be around forever, so the chance will be there for Mason to stake his claim as the next starter.
The offensive line was expected to be a work in progress this season after returning only one starter. The line proved to be just that, paving the way for another 1,000 yard rushing season struggling in pass protection. Auburn gave up 31 sacks, which ranked the Tigers near the bottom of FBS teams.
Expectations will be higher next season as the line should be more experienced. The Tigers will need to get better at stopping SEC pass rushers if Auburn’s offense is going to find more balance.