2011 Record: (8-5, 4-4 in SEC)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik (35-29 All-Time, 30-10 at Auburn, 15-9 in SEC)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl: beat Virginia 43-24
Revenge: 9/17 at Clemson, 9/22 vs LSU, 10/8 at Arkansas, 11/10 vs Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama
Swing Games: 9/8 at Miss St, 10/27 vs Texas A&M
Stat to Cheer: had 82 rushing plays for 10 or more yards (2nd in SEC, 21st in Nation)
Stats to Fear: gave up 197 plays of 10 or more yards in 2011 (last in SEC, 97th in Nation); held opponents to just 48.39% on third down conversions in 2011 (last in SEC, 107th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 9; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DE Corey Lemonier (47 tackles, 9.5 sacks), LB Daren Bates (104 tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Onterio McCalebb (641 rush yards, 5 TD, 32 rec, 2 rec TD), TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen (24 rec, 7 TD), WR Emory Blake (36 rec, 5 TD)
Inside Scoop with The Recruiting Eagle:
CFBZ: Now that spring football is over what do you think is the biggest question mark on this ball club?
The Recruiting Eagle: The biggest question mark for Auburn in 2012 is quarterback play. We knew that life after Cam was going to be difficult and that proved to be the case in 2011. Barrett Trotter decided to move on, leaving part time starter Clint Moseley and rising sophomore Kiehl Frazier. From all accounts, Frazier has taken another step towards reaching his enormous potential and is expected to start Labor Day weekend against Clemson in the Georgia Dome. Also worth watching is new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
CFBZ: Who are some guys that improved their stock this spring with their performance?
The Recruiting Eagle: In addition to another strong recruiting class in February, Auburn gets a shot in the arm with a number of redshirts and transfers. With Michael Dyer banished back to Arkansas, Florida transfer Mike Blakely and Alabama transfer Corey Grant made a case in the spring to get touches behind outside threat Onterio McCalebb. Former Illinois fullback Jay Prosch, a first-team All-American as a sophomore, received clearance from the NCAA to play immediately and will drastically help the running game.
CFBZ: After throwing just 12 passes last year, Is Kiehl Frazier ready to be an SEC quarterback?
The Recruiting Eagle: Back to Kiehl Frazier, Auburn fans hope and expect him to take the next step this season. Frazier has the arm and the legs to be one of the more balanced quarterbacks in the SEC and should benefit from a more experienced offensive line. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is a quarterback guru and his tutelage should greatly benefit Frazier’s progression.
CFBZ: Coming out of spring practice what aspect of Auburn's game are you most confident?
The Recruiting Eagle: As Auburn prepares for Summer practice, we can expect a much better defense led by new coordinator Brian Van Gorder. After five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Van Gorder returns to the SEC where he excelled as the DC at the University of Georgia. Auburn returns their entire defensive line, with no seniors among the top dozen. Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford will be the best pass rushing tandem in the conference this season. Auburn is also loaded with talented defensive backs, with the only question mark at linebacker where much is expected from five star, redshirt freshman Kris Frost.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The Recruiting Eagle: Its an even number year, meaning Auburn gets a host of SEC home games. Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia all visit the Plains with Auburn needing to go at least 3-1 in those contests. The mood of the season will be set by the performance opening weekend against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff classic. Road games of note include both Mississippi schools and a trip to Tuscaloosa. I would consider anything less than 9-3 and a top-4 SEC bowl a disappointment.
After their rise to glory in 2010, Auburn got some payback last year. They went from having 20 seniors on their two-deep depth chart in 2010 to having just 7 in 2011. According to Phil Steele, they will have 9 this year so this is still a very young Auburn team. One thing that Steele tracks in his yearly preview magazines is an experience chart in which he ranks all of the teams in the FBS in terms of experience. In 2010, Auburn was the 26th most experienced team in the Nation. In 2011, they were dead last at 120th and this year they are still very low at 94th in the country (which ranks them 13th in the SEC). Experience means a lot in college football and it's one reason why this Auburn team will be good but not great this year.
If you look beyond experience you will find a ton of talent at Auburn. The last three years Auburn has had a top ten recruiting class, according to Scout.com, with the second ranked class in the nation last year in 2011. Auburn has had some attrition from these talented prospects, like other SEC schools, but now is the time for them to shine and step up and take the spotlight if Auburn has any chance to contend in the SEC this season.
The biggest spotlight is being shined on Kiehl Frazier. Frazier was Scout.com's #4 ranked QB prospect in 2011. Last year he saw the field quite a bit but Gus Malzahn didn't trust him enough to let him loose with the football (he ran the ball 76 times yet only attempted 12 passes). Can Frazier take that first step under new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler? Auburn also must replace Michael Dyer (1200+ yards rushing in 2011) but they do return talent in the backfield. The question is if they have a #1 back who is durable enough to tote the rock like Dyer did (he had five games of 20+ carries and two games of 30 carries or more). With Frazier at QB, Auburn will have to rely on the ground game a good bit and they have talent but it will be interesting to see how the puzzle pieces fit (especially early in the season).
On defense, Auburn was 11th in the league in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed. Brian Van Gorder comes in this year after being in the NFL and doing a decent job but rarely will you see a defense go from poor to elite in a year. Auburn fans should expect the defense to improve but if they are expecting Alabama or LSU type results then they will be in for a rude awakening. If given the time, Van Gorder might get the defense to that level in a few years but not overnight. One area Auburn must improve is quarterback pressure. Over the course of one season Auburn lost 13 sacks (roughly the output of "nasty" Nick Fairley) and they went from 99 tackles for loss (top in the conference) to 74 (9th). The defensive line has to improve and all eyes are on the younger players like Gabe Wright and Jeff Whitaker as they will be looking to take the next step. Auburn has one big answer in the front seven in Corey Lemonier but he's the only returning lineman with more than one sack. Getting pressure is critical and it will help the Auburn secondary which was dead last in the SEC last season in pass defense.
Auburn has a tough schedule this year. They have to navigate the SEC West gauntlet (LSU, Bama, Arkansas), they get the favorite in the SEC East (Georgia) who has beat Auburn in five of their last six games and they also play a very tough Clemson team in the first game of the season. Auburn is going to have to grow up fast this year. If they can somehow get past Clemson in game one (in his third game as a college player Sammy Watkins caught 10 passes for 155 yards and 2 TDs against Auburn last year) it would be a gigantic boost to this young teams confidence and could turn their season. If they don't then it's going to be an uphill battle because in game four and five they host LSU and Arkansas. Last year Auburn struggled to an 8-5 record and they only lost to teams that ended up in the Top 25 (Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Bama) but also they got really, really lucky in a couple of those wins (Utah State, Mississippi State). Can they take the next step this year or will it be another learning year as Auburn installs new coordinators on both sides of the football?
2012 Prediction: 8-4
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