Auburn, AL—If vengeance is sweet, the Auburn Tigers are looking for a toothache instead of the heartache they felt in 2008. The first game of the season pits the Tigers against an opponent not anywhere close to the caliber of a UCLA, Ohio State, or even a Virginia Tech. However, it’s a chance for Auburn to relieve a year's worth of pent-up frustration.
Despite what a few bloggers have stated, Louisiana Tech will not make it two straight season-opening wins over an SEC school, especially at the expense of new head coach Gene Chizik and Auburn.
La. Tech returns 16 starters from last year’s 8-5 team. However, that will not be enough to beat Auburn and its much more talented 15 returning starters.
After last year's 5-7 debacle under former head coach Tommy Tuberville, Chizik will not have to say much to motivate his players. I have a hunch that the Tigers will come out roaring and hungry for blood to prove last season was an anomaly.
Are you catching on to the theme here?
Chizik and crew are just 16 days away from closing fall camp and preparing to kick off four straight home games against La. Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Ball State. The Auburn fans are hoping the early schedule will equate to four straight much-needed victories.
The road wins may be tougher to come by if the Tigers want to have a successful season and compete for a Western Division Championship. It will be vital to win all of their home games and take at least two on the road.
The Tigers must travel to Tennessee and Arkansas back-to-back, followed by LSU and Georgia. Other games shuffled in are at home against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Furman (HC), and of course the Iron Bowl against Alabama.
La. Tech has several playmakers on offense and a veteran quarterback in Ross Jenkins.
The Bulldogs will be led by a strong defensive line that features several SEC-caliber players and is coached by former Auburn and All-SEC defensive lineman Jimmy Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh served as a strength and conditioning assistant at LSU in 2006 and 2007 before leaving for the Bulldogs.
Auburn should once again feature a stout defense led by senior DE Antonio Coleman. Jake Ricks is expected to anchor the defensive line at tackle. Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens, Spencer Pybus, and junior college transfer Eltoro Freeman will be the cornerstones at linebacker.
Depth at linebacker becomes a real issue. Even though defensive coordinator Ted Roof can plug some guys in, the numbers are not there. Chizik said he and Roof may look to run different formations at times to compensate for the thin LB corps.
Chizik was the defensive architect of the 13-0 squad in 2004 that led the country in scoring and was in the top 10 in every statistical category. It’s also worth mentioning that he was the national assistant coach of the year in ‘04.
Chizik’s style of defense was instrumental, capturing a national championship as the Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator in 2005. You can expect this defense to be prototypical of Chizik’s tough style. Without question, they must stay healthy to be a successful unit, however.
The offense is being revamped by Gus Malzahn. If I have to lay out the history of the success that Malzahn has had everywhere he has coached, then you're not a college football fan and would not be reading this article anyway.
Malzahn and Chizik wanted to be on the fast track in naming a starter at QB. Mission accomplished! Chris Todd came on late this year, having been unavailable in the spring. He underwent corrective shoulder surgery on his throwing arm in December.
Having a small window of opportunity, he won the job fair and square by beating out Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle. Burns has been moved to an all-around utility position at slot receiver and wildcat QB. Caudle and true freshman Tyrik Rollison are battling it out for second-string QB.
While Malzahn and the other assistants work to install the final touches on offense, Trooper Taylor has been busy looking for the right receiver combination. Trooper said he is looking for his primary wide receivers.
Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are the most notable, but Taylor is also thrilled with Travante Stallworth, Anthony Gulley, and Darvin Adams. Terrell Zachary “will be one of his top guys,” Taylor said.
Tim Hawthorne is rehabbing from injury, so it's unclear if he’ll be ready when the season begins. It may be tough to break into a crowded receiving corps at this point anyway. What seemed to be a weak point in the spring may have blossomed into a strength for the Tigers.
Montez Billings and Philip Pierre-Louis both have put their personal and academic problems behind them. Both are expected to be able to contribute. Taylor says that Billings will be in the starting lineup. Pierre-Louis reported to Tuesday's practice but Chizik stated he had a long way to go.
The strongest position on the team without a doubt will be at running back. Ben Tate is the starter and is on the Maxwell Award watch list. Mario Fannin will be mixed in as well and will be Mr. Everything in Malzahn’s scheme.
To complement the new Auburn offense will be a Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown-type tandem in super-fast Onterio McCalebb and 232-pound bruiser Eric Smith. Both have great hands and excellent vision. McCalebb is the fastest offensive player and second fastest on the team only to the human bullet Travante Stallworth.
Dontae Aycock is looking really solid and will add more depth at RB as well. It will be a mad scramble for opposing defenses to keep up with who is coming and going in this fast paced offense. If the players and coaches can put all the pieces together quickly, expect this offense to be very explosive.
My Prediction: Auburn 51–La Tech 17
Auburn Tigers 2009 Schedule
vs. Louisiana Tech
7:00 PM ET (ESPNU)
7:00 PM ET (ESGP/E360)
vs. 23 West Virginia
8:45 PM ET ()
vs. Ball State
8:00 PM ET ()
vs. 14 Mississippi
at 13 Georgia
vs. 6 Alabama
2:30 PM ET (CBS)