Avoiding a Letdown: Nine Players Who Need To Break Out For Auburn in 2011

Mike Kirkland@@mikey66kContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

Avoiding a Letdown: Nine Players Who Need To Break Out For Auburn in 2011

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    Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers won the BCS National Championship over Oregon on January 10, 2011.
    Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers won the BCS National Championship over Oregon on January 10, 2011.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Auburn Tigers overcame all the odds. They battled from behind. They overcame a 24-point deficit to beat Alabama on the road. They did what no one thought they could.

    They won the national championship.

    Much of the success should be accredited to Cameron Newton, Nick Fairley, and the massive group of seniors Auburn was blessed with. 

    Gone are great players and leaders. Auburn's cupboard is bare next year, right?

    Wrong.

    Like any team, Auburn must reload. And reload they will. It may take a year or so to rebuild, but keep in mind: Auburn wasn't supposed to be here. When Gene Chizik took over, he said he needed 3 to 4 full recruiting years to get this team to a competitive level. This year was just their year.

    After a championship, anything other than a repeat is a disappointment. Do I think Auburn will repeat? No.

    But can they be a good team? Yes.

    New playmakers must surface. New leaders must step up. It's time for these guys to break out.

Barrett Trotter

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    QB Barrett Trotter
    QB Barrett Trotter

    Who was surprised that Cameron Newton went pro? I wasn't. Surprise or not, he has to be replaced.

    The battle for the starting quarterback position will be between three players: junior Barrett Trotter, sophomore Clint Moseley, and freshman Kiehl Frazier. 

    Frazier will be a star player. But it would be foolish to throw a freshman to the dogs of the SEC. Quarterbacks get ruined like that. I expect it to be close. But I would love for one thing.

    I would love for Barrett Trotter to break out. 

    Remember Chris Todd? He broke records in his senior season. That was Malzahn's system. Remember Cam Newton? He shattered records. And dreams. That was Malzahn's system. What do they have in common? Both were in it for less than a year before the first game of the season.

    Barrett Trotter has learned the system for two years.

    Look for him to start. Look for him to do well. 

    But don't count out Clint Moseley.

Michael Dyer

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    RB Michael Dyer
    RB Michael DyerAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    I know what you're thinking.

    Hey moron, Dyer had 1093 yards and 5 touchdowns.

    Yes, in Cameron Newton's shadow. Cameron Newton was the quarterback. He was also the primary ballcarrier threat. Michael Dyer is a good back. He was the #1 back last year rated by ESPN.

    I want to know what he can do when he's the main guy. Of course, he'll have Onterio McCalebb as the change-of-pace scat back. But can Michael Dyer carry the load all season long? 

    I think he can. He'll need to prove it. If he can, he'll likely finish his career as Auburn's all-time leading rusher.

DeAngelo Benton

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    WR DeAngelo Benton
    WR DeAngelo Benton

    DeAngelo Benton is a guy you might not know about. He was listed as a 5-star by many recruiting services. He was a late pickup for the 2009 class, switching over from LSU. He was slated to be a huge pickup and the next great receiver at Auburn. 

    That year, it was Darvin Adams who broke out instead.

    With Darvin now leaving, and Emory Blake the lead candidate as the #1 guy, Benton has a shot to replace Terrell Zachery on the other side. 

    Benton needs to work his way into the lineup ahead of the rest. He needs to step up and become a go-to guy. He has all the potential in the world, but his time is running out (he'll be a junior next year). The time frame for him is closing. It's time for DeAngelo Benton to become a star.

    Emory Blake broke out this past season and became a target that I had always hoped he could become. It's time for Benton to do the same.

Blake Burgess

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    C Blake Burgess
    C Blake Burgess

    It all starts up front. And up front, Auburn is losing a lot. Gone will be All-Americans Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh. Gone will be Byron Isom and Mike Berry. That's a tough pill to swallow.

    A.J. Greene won the starting right tackle position before breaking his leg against Clemson. Brandon Mosley wound up starting the rest of the season. But do you remember who came in during that game? It was John Sullen, listed as a guard but versatile enough to play tackle. So there's three with some big-time experience. Jared Cooper is capable at guard. So who will play center?

    Committed to Auburn is the nation's best center prospect, Reese Dismukes. Hey, Pugh played as a freshman. Why not, right? Well...maybe.

    Keep an eye on Blake Burgess. 

    This is more of a surprise pick than anything, because most people aren't giving Burgess a chance.

    The son of Rick Burgess (from the Rick & Bubba radio show) caught the coaches' eyes. He was too small to play college ball on scholarship, but was invited to walk-on. He has gotten bigger and stronger and looks like a football player. Don't be shocked when this guy is snapping the ball next year.

Daren Bates

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    LB Daren Bates
    LB Daren BatesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Daren Bates started a lot of games as a true freshman while playing safety. He made the move to linebacker in 2010 and had a solid season. 

    With Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens graduating, Daren Bates returns as a shoe-in starter. He must become more of a leader as a junior on and off the field. He has superb athletic ability, but takes some questionable angles and at times, misses tackles. If he can take on a Bynes role and lead this defense, it will make the transition much easier.

    Aside from Bates, Eltoro Freeman also must step up. He is a solid player, though sometimes inconsistent. But these two have the talent to play at an all-conference level. 

Jeffrey Whitaker

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    DT Jeffrey Whitaker
    DT Jeffrey Whitaker

    To start the season, Auburn had little depth on the defensive line. This forced a lot of freshmen on the field. One of those freshmen was Jeffrey Whitaker.

    Now imagine Auburn's defensive line minus Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton, and Mike Blanc in the middle. It's not a pretty picture. Committed to Auburn are JaBrian Niles and Angelo Blackson, who will get some playing time along with Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, the other freshman from last year's class. Considering Auburn are Devaunte Sigler (who may play defensive end at the next level) and Gabe Wright. Both of these list Auburn among they're leaders. JUCO DT Jonathan Jenkins is a mammoth of a lineman, standing at 6'4", 335-lbs. Auburn is pursuing him heavily, and he would be a great asset, though it doesn't look too likely at this time.

    Whitaker had a good freshman season. He'll get bigger and stronger before the fall. He'll need it. He and Kenneth Carter will more than likely start. Whitaker has more game experience and that's likely to help him do well.

Neiko Thorpe

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    CB Neiko Thorpe
    CB Neiko ThorpeKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It's no secret that the secondary was the weak link of the Auburn Tigers in 2010. Neiko Thorpe was one of the starters. I don't know how many times I watched him be in perfect position only to give up a catch. 

    Defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley was one of only two coaches retained by Gene Chizik when he took over. He's a good coach. But his unit didn't perform well for most of the season. 

    Neiko Thorpe is a guy with outstanding potential. He has talent, but his ball skills need refining. If he can shape himself up, he will have a productive senior year. He started opposite Demond Washington, who graduated. Likely to start next year, opposite Thorpe, is T'Sharvan Bell. Bell was one of the surprises of the 2010 season. Call that his breakout year. I look for him to have a solid season as a starter. Thorpe needs one. Chris Davis really showed some skills. Plus, Auburn is inching closer to having the best secondary recruiting classes in the country.

    Jonathan Rose and Robenson Therezie are future stars. Rose is already enrolled. Auburn is one of the leaders for Marcus Roberson. With this kind of talent on the sidelines, Thorpe can't really afford to play subpar.

Mike McNeil

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    S Mike McNeil
    S Mike McNeilKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Mike McNeil was either on or he was off. And when he was off, he was way off. Bad angles, missed assignments, blown coverages. It wasn't all him. It was the whole secondary. But he was singled out a lot. McNeil was a top-10 national prospect coming out of high school.

    It's fine time he played like a 5-star athlete.

    Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage had two very illustrious careers at Auburn. Both are gone now, and McNeil, who played in most if not every game (and starting a few after Savage's season-ending injury), is a shoe-in to start. 

    And he needs to have a breakout year.

    Auburn lost three starters in the secondary (counting Savage and not McNeil as a starter). He and Neiko have to have big years to keep the ball rolling. 

    But to the naked eye, anything that happens this year is an improvement on last year.

Cody Parkey

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    K Cody Parkey
    K Cody Parkey

    What? A kicker?

    Yes. A kicker.

    Think about it. John Vaughn broke the record for all-time points scored as an Auburn Tiger. He graduates; enter Wes Byrum. Byrum breaks Vaughn's record. He graduates. Get what I'm saying?

    Enter Cody Parkey. Parkey was the nation's top-ranked kicker last year. He got some looks for kickoff duties this season. He now must fill Byrum's shoes.

    Of course, if I'm Wes Byrum, I probably haven't been seen since I made that game-winner in the national championship. I'm probably in Hawai'i soaking up glory. 

    You don't have to look much further than that to see how important a kicker is.

    There's got to be a little pressure. But there had to have been when Wes Byrum took over. Parkey should do just fine.

Is This Team Really a 6-6 Team at Best?

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    I don't think so.

    Heading for a repeat? Doubtful. But possible.

    Losing the players that Auburn is losing before next fall is tough to overcome. But teams do it every year. I'm not going to sit here and try to make a prediction. Not yet. After National Signing Day, I'll think about it. But it's too early to tell. Too many questions still to be answered.

    But Auburn next season could surprise you.

    New names. New faces. New stars. It's an exciting time.

    I can't predict the future. All I can say is that the Auburn Tigers were the best team in 2010.

    And it sure feels good to look ahead at Signing Day, spring, summer, and fall knowing that.

    I appreciate every read and comment. But please shy away from any comments regarding the pay-for-play scandal, NCAA's futuristic hammer, wishful thinking, and unicorns.

    War Eagle.