By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 4:17 PM EDT
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SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Gene Chizik, 30-10 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scot Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian VanGorder
A statue of Cam Newton now stands outside the gates of Jordan-Hare Stadium, but Auburn is still trying to fashion a post-Cam offense and repeat the magic of 2010. New coordinator Scot Loeffler has maintained an air of secrecy about his offense — refusing even to label it — but it seems certain that many hallmarks of Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle attack will be retired.
Kiehl Frazier was trained to run Malzahn’s offense from the time he was in eighth grade, yet he has prospered under the tutelage of Loeffler. Officially, Frazier and Clint Moseley will compete for the starting job in August, but most observers agree that Frazier has a healthy lead.
Michael Dyer rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and was on pace to challenge Bo Jackson as Auburn’s all-time leading rusher. Instead, his career ended in acrimony, and he opted to rejoin Malzahn at Arkansas State. Auburn will actually be considerably deeper at running back this year, but more bodies might not equate to more production. Senior Onterio McCalebb will get the first crack at the job, but he doesn’t have the durability to carry the ball 20 times a game or more.
Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and receiver Emory Blake both chose to return for their senior season and should account for a good chunk of Auburn’s receptions. Receivers coach Trooper Taylor even suggests that Blake should catch 80 passes.
New coordinator Brian VanGorder has vowed to turn his defensive line loose, which is wise because the strength of Auburn’s defense should be up front. After they were overmatched physically at times last year, another year in the weight room should help youngsters like Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson.
Auburn must hope it stays healthy at linebacker in 2012, because depth is a concern. Daren Bates, Jonathan Evans and Jake Holland are the veterans, but expect redshirt freshman Kris Frost to push for significant playing time and maybe even a starting job.
Willie Martinez, VanGorder’s old friend and colleague, has taken over coaching duties in the secondary this year. He’ll have a veteran crew to work with, including T’Sharvan Bell, the only fifth-year player on the Auburn roster. Bell underwent knee surgery and sat out spring ball, but he has promised to be ready in plenty of time for the season.
After a solid freshman season, punter Steven Clark was nearly flawless as a sophomore. His 33 punts inside the 20 were best in the SEC and third-best nationally. Kicker Cody Parkey has done the full routine (field goals, extra points and kickoffs) with reliability. He made 13-of-18 field goals, including 6-of-10 from longer than 40 yards.
Armed with three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, Auburn hopes to show that 2010 wasn’t an aberration but the start of a run of sustained excellence.
The schedule is more favorable this season, but many of the questions that Auburn hoped to resolve during last year’s “rebuilding” remain unanswered. Frazier threw sparingly (and often to opponents) in 2011. Dyer has moved on. The offensive line will be a bit deeper but just as young and inexperienced. Two new coordinators are trying to put their imprint on the team.
The talent is there for the Tigers to push their way back into the nation’s top tier, but Auburn is probably a year away from becoming a legitimate threat in the SEC West.