Can Auburn Exceed Expectations This Year?


All the signs seem to point to another less-than-stellar season for the Auburn Tigers.  The Tigers best running back for the past two seasons has been dismissed from the team (and another team).  Auburn is also breaking in a new quarterback without any starting experience.  Kiehl Frazier will be thrown to the wolves early as Auburn will be an underdog in at least three of their first five games.  Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who was with the program for three years and put up record-breaking offensive numbers, left the program to take over the helm at Arkansas State.  As if all of these signs weren’t enough, starting center Reese Dismukes was suspended indefinitely after his arrest last weekend.

There is a lot of pressure on Gene Chizik and his 2012 Auburn Tigers.  Going into his 4th year at Auburn, Chizik has already won an SEC and National Title but has a pair of 8-5 seasons on both sides.  His first Auburn team surpassed expectations and won their first 5 games before winning the Outback Bowl in dramatic fashion and giving Auburn fans hope for the future.  No one expected the 2010 championship season to go like it did, but it was a magical season and will never be forgotten.  Auburn faced a mountain going into the 2011 season.  The Tigers lost its two best players, 27 seniors and four starters off the offensive line.  It’s never easy to say an 8-5 season was a success, but I think you can say it about last year’s team exceeded what was expected of them.

The 2012 season is now upon us and the Auburn Tigers have numerous questions surrounding them.  How long is Reese Dismukes suspension going to last?  Is Tunde Fariyike a capable backup?  Can Kiehl Frazier live up to his recruiting hype?  Will the young but talented offensive line be improved from last year?  Can the running game be dominant like it used to be?  Will the two new coordinators be successful?  I can go on and on but I think you get the point.

This team has a lot of talent on the roster but once again, youth will play a role in how the season turns out.  Redshirt freshman Greg Robinson and true freshman Avery Young will start at the offensive tackle positions.  With Frazier’s inexperience, having two freshmen starting at tackle could pose a problem.  As with Robinson and Young, sophomore Tunde Fariyike will make his first start for the Clemson game.  Frazier will have two All-SEC caliber players to throw the ball too.  Philip Lutzenkirchen and Emory Blake should have great years for the Tigers granted Frazier can get them the ball.  Onterio McCalebb returns to provide the home run threat for the Tigers offense once again.  Tre Mason showed what he could do in the bowl win against Virginia.  Mason bulked up this off season so he can be more of the every down back this offense needs.

Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to lead the offense this year.  This will be  the 2nd year Loeffler has been an offensive coordinator but he has a lot of people saying he will be a very good one, including former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.  Loeffler has worked with some great quarterbacks, including Tim Tebow and Tom Brady, both of which had high praise for the young coach.

The defense should be much improved in 2012.  I mean, how could it get any worse.  The Ted Roof era is finally over for the Tigers and in steps Brian VanGorder.  VanGorder will have plenty of talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball.  The defensive line should be the best component of the 2012 defense.  Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae should be sack machines at the defensive end positions.  Defensive tackles Gabe Wright and Jeffrey Whitaker are getting a lot of praise by coaches and players for being much improved and physical.  Auburn’s defensive line could be one of the best units in the country.  Jake Holland returns at middle linebacker for the Tigers and should be much improved going into his junior year at Auburn. VanGorder puts a lot of pressure on his middle linebackers to be the quarterback of the defense.  Holland should fill this role perfectly as he has talent and experience on his side.  The secondary has been a sore spot for Auburn for many years now.  The secondary should be a lot better with the hiring of Willie Martinez as secondary coach.  He is a proven winner who should make Auburn’s secondary a lot more disciplined and physical.  If Auburn can get off the field and keep the defense rested, it could make this team a contender right away.

Auburn faces many challenges heading into the 2012 season.  The schedule is once again brutal.  A 1-4 start is very possible.  Most of our toughest games are at Jordan-Hare this year: LSU, Georgia and Arkansas.  With a neutral game to Clemson and road trips to Tuscaloosa, Starkville and Nashville looming, any victory this year will have to be earned the hard way.  Chizik has proven he can win the big games and come up with a few surprising victories as well.  This year proves to be an exciting one on the Plains, but with the early schedule, it could turn sour very quickly.  Great moments are born from great opportunities and Auburn has a lot of big opportunities this year.  Can they exceed expectations?