2011 Auburn Preview

Without Cam Newton to pull games out of the fire, is Auburn doomed for a disasterous 2011 season?
Without Cam Newton to pull games out of the fire, is Auburn doomed for a disasterous 2011 season? /

The 2011 college football season is nearly here, so it only makes sense to immediately put the credibility of this blog in question. Hopefully, at the end of the coming season, this preview will be looked back upon as pure genius and not absolute buffoonery.

Entering the 2009 football season, many SEC football fans — especially those located in and around Tuscaloosa — predicted a turbulent year for Auburn. The Tigers were coming off a miserable 5-7 season, had fired long-time coach Tommy Tuberville during the offseason and subsequently made a pretty laughable hire in Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik. That would be the same Gene Chizik that was once the hottest coordinator in the country after successful stints as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas but had compiled a brutal 5-19 record in Ames. Chizik put together a nice coaching staff, with the cornerstone being offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, and signed a pretty decent recruiting class on short notice. Still, many SEC fans assumed a coach that had compiled a 5-19 record at Iowa State would have no chance at competing in the rough and tumble SEC. Another 5-7 season wouldn’t be much of a surprise to most of the Southeast.

Auburn suffered some lumps in 2009, but the Tigers were much better at times than everyone but the most optimistic Auburn fans could have expected. The defensive meltdown against Arkansas was brutal. The offensive struggles against Kentucky and LSU were mind-numbingly frustrating. And the second-half collapses against Georgia and Alabama haunted fans for months. But there were bright spots that showed glimpses of an even brighter future. (Although, no one could imagine in 2009 just how bright the 2010 season would be). Auburn exploded for 49 points in a rout of Mississippi State in Week 2. There was the thrilling comeback after the monsoon against West Virginia. Auburn stopped a three-game losing streak in a home upset of preseason media darling Ole Miss. Auburn survived a heart-stopping, overtime against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day — which happened to be the same day a junior college transfer and future starting quarterback made his choice of college known. And as painful as the Alabama loss was, one couldn’t help but be optimistic that in Gene Chizik’s first Iron Bowl, the head coach nearly guided his team to an upset of the unbeaten eventual national champion, the best Alabama team in a generation.

Entering the 2011 season, everything has changed for Auburn. With the great Nick Saban leading Alabama back to the promised land in 2009 and Mark Ingram capturing the Crimson Tide’s first Heisman Trophy, the stage was seemingly set for a decade — at least — of dominance over “little brother.” Auburn responded by punching “big brother”in the mouth, winning a national title and Heisman of its own in 2010. The Tigers’ second national championship — and first since 1957 — signaled to the college football world that there would be no crimson dominance over the state of Alabama. In fact, there would be a struggle for superiority, and Auburn would be on a level playing with the vaunted Crimson Tide.

Pundits and rival fans alike have forecasted another miserable season for Auburn in 2011. Noted expert Phil Steele picks the Tigers to finish sixth in the SEC West this season. Paul Finebaum, who is not to be considered an expert of any sort, has said Auburn could be lucky to win six or seven games in the coming campaign. Finebaum’s sentiment is echoed throughout Bama Nation. Analysts Tom Luginbill and Mike Bellotti recently projected “six to eight” losses in the upcoming campaign.

Auburn won’t repeat as national champions in 2011 and likely won’t repeat as SEC or Western Division champions, but the Tigers are not about to fall off the map.


Poor Barrett Trotter. Trotter won the starting quarterback job in fall camp, and all he has to do is fill the shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. In addition to throwing for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns, Newton rushed for 1,662 yards and 20 touchdowns. Oh yeah, he also caught a touchdown pass against Ole Miss. In limited work, Trotter completed six of nine passes for 64 yards and rushed for 68 yards and a TD on five carries.

Trotter is not going to duplicate Newton’s numbers — he won’t come close — but if Chris Todd can set records at Auburn, Trotter will be more than fine. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will find a way to use every ounce of talent in a player, and Trotter has plenty of talent. He’s a pretty accurate passer and is a much better runner than many will expect. If Emory Blake and co. can get open and make plays, Trotter should be able to spread the ball around the field and put up big numbers.

Joining Trotter in the offensive backfield is certainly the brightest spot in Auburn’s team. Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer make up the best running back tandem in the SEC and could be the best in the country. With Dyer playing Mr. Inside to McCalebb’s Mr. Outside, Malzahn is able to use plenty of misdirection and play fakes to keep opposing defenses off balance. And with McCalebb bulking up a bit, he should be able to take some inside carries, adding another wrinkle to the Auburn rushing attack.

Of course, Barrett Trotter will not be able to make plays if he can’t stay upright, and the rushing attack will produce nothing if there are no running lanes to get through. The offensive line will be the key to Auburn’s offensive ability. From 2007 to ’10, Auburn had the luxury of one of the most consistent o-lines in college football. Now, four new faces will join left tackle Brandon Mosley in starting roles. Freshmen Reece Dismukes at center and Chad Slade at right tackle, junior John Sullen at right guard and senior Jared Cooper at left guard will have to grow up in a hurry to allow the Tiger offense to go. There could be struggles early, but the raw talent in those players should overcome the lack of experience by the time Auburn hits the meat of its schedule.


Losing Cam Newton on offense is a big blow, but losing Lombardi Trophy winner Nick Fairley on defense is just as bad. A talented rotational player that had a reputation for taking plays off, Fairley entered the 2010 season without much fanfare, but he quickly became a household name. Newton’s heroics at quarterback gave Auburn a few almost unbelievable wins, but Fairley’s dominance on the defensive line shut opposing offenses down when the defense absolutely had to make stops. Replacing 60 tackles and 11.5 sacks will be tall order, especially with a defensive line consisting of four sophomores.

Defensive ends Nosa Eguae and Cory Lemonier will have to be immediate leaders and provide enough pressure on opposing offensive lines to allow their linemates to get off blocks. Anything other than a great year from Eguae and Lemonier could lead to disaster on the d-line. Fortunately for Tiger fans, they should be up to the task. Eguae compiled 22 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2010 and should build on those numbers this season. Lemonier was one of the most coveted defensive end prospects in the country when he signed with the Tigers in 2010, and 2011 could be a major breakout season.

As little is known about how the front four will perform in 2011, Auburn’s back seven is an even bigger question mark. Linebacker Darren Bates and safety Neiko Thorpe are the only returning starters on defense, but Thorpe has moved to his new position from corner back. Junior Jonathan Evans and sophomore Jake Holland join Bates at linebacker. With senior Eltoro Freeman in the rotation, there should be enough talent and experience to provide solid play out of the linebackers. That, combined with the young talent on the defensive line should allow Auburn to have success stopping the run.

Stopping the pass will likely be another story.  In two years under Ted Roof, Auburn hasn’t been able to stop anyone with a decent passing offense. Auburn allowed 259 yards through the air in 2010, which ranked at No. 108 (!) out of 120 FBS teams. The only positive going into 2011 is that the passing D can’t get much worse. Freshman talents Erique Florence and Jonathan Rose should provide some help in the rotation, but it will be a year or two before they breakout as true stars. Until then, Auburn will continue to have trouble stopping the pass.


No doubt, Auburn faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but it really isn’t as bad as it seems. Auburn should be guaranteed three wins against Utah State, Florida Atlantic and Samford, and defeating Ole Miss at home shouldn’t be too much to ask. Some have predicted Auburn to go 0-4 at home against Mississippi State and Florida and on the road against Clemson and Georgia. Quite frankly, none of those teams are all that intimidating. Mississippi State is coming off a nine-win year, but doesn’t have the offensive firepower some think. Florida is converting from the spread to a pro-style offense and will struggle mightily. Clemson is facing a rebuilding project similar to Auburn, only without the stockpiled talent. And Georgia could be on the brink of a disaster. If the Bulldogs struggle in the first month of the season, expect head coach Mark Richt to be fired. And if that happens, Georgia will be in total disarray. Auburn could very well go 4-0 against MSU, Clemson, Florida and UGa.

It could be considered a safe bet the losses on the road against South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU and at home against Alabama are a sure thing. As good as those teams are, that is a likely scenario, but no one should be surprised if Auburn’s young talent springs an upset in one of those games.


Auburn will be fine on offense. The new offensive line will gel and allow both Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb to rush for over 1,000 yards. Barrett Trotter will be able to spread the ball around to his receivers, and tight end/h-back Philip Lutzenkirchen will find his way into the end zone at least five times. Trotter will make a few plays on the ground that help the Tigers pull out a couple of wins. Just like the past two seasons, the defense will be able to stop the run but will be abysmal against the pass. Cory Lemonier will have a breakout season and be on everyone’s radar entering 2012. Erique Florence will be poised to have a breakout season in 2012. Auburn will spring an upset against either run-oriented LSU or Alabama and finish the regular season with a 9-3 record. That seems pretty optimistic and will surely draw a scoff out of rival fans, but this coaching staff has proved it can put players in position to win games. Despite the lack of experience, the young Tigers have enough talent to surprise.