2010 overall record: 14-0, BCS national champions
2010 conference record: 8-0, SEC champions
Offense: 3; Defense: 3; Kicker/punter: 0
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cam Newton (1,473 yards)
Passing: Cam Newton (2,854 yards)
Receiving: Darvin Adams (963 yards)
Tackles: Josh Bynes (73)
Sacks: Nick Fairley (11.5)
Interceptions: Zac Etheridge*, Demond Washington, Josh Bynes (3)
1. Dangerous running game: Despite losing Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who was equally dangerous running and throwing the ball, the Tigers should be just fine in the rushing department. Michael Dyer stepped onto the scene as one of the most exciting freshmen in the league last fall and didn’t appear to miss much of a beat this spring. No one expects him to be slowed by a sophomore slump, and with Newton gone he should get even more carries. His running mate, Onterio McCalebb, will continue to add yet another dimension to Auburn’s running game. He’ll be the home run threat, while Dyer pounds away at defenses. Auburn could have arguably the best two-running back threat in the SEC.
2. Receivers step up: Newton and Darvin Adams left two huge holes in the playmaking department. Helping to ease those losses was the emergence of receivers Emory Blake and Trovon Reed. Blake is expected to step into Adams’ shoes this fall, while Reed, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, will be moved all over the field. Blake had 554 yards and a team-high eight receiving touchdowns in 2010. Reed will start in the slot, but could also see action in the backfield and even play some wildcat quarterback if needed.
3. Greene is good: Senior offensive lineman A.J. Greene went through spring practice after missing most of last season after he broke a bone in his ankle against Clemson last season. Greene was the starter at right tackle before the injury, but replaced departed senior Lee Ziemba at left tackle. Brandon Mosley, who took over for Greene last season will stay at right tackle. The coaches left spring having a lot of confidence in the way Greene performed. The ankle hasn’t completely healed, but Greene is confident he’ll be 100 percent by the start of the season. His return gives Auburn two solid returning starters at each tackle spot.
1. Replacing Fairley in the middle: Nick Fairley proved to be one of the most dominating defensive players in the league last season, so replacing him isn’t going to be easy. This spring, sophomores Ken Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker worked in the middle, but both have a ways to go before their presences will truly be felt. They showed flashes this spring, but with just 13 combined tackles between the two, it’s unknown what kind of impact they’ll have. As a whole, the Tigers have to replace three starters on the defensive line.
2. Quarterback mystery: Replacing Fairley is one thing, but finding someone to fill the shoes Newton left behind will be the biggest task for Auburn. Newton transformed the Tigers’ throwing and running game and neither of Auburn’s current options have the physical tools to replicate what Newton did. But few around the country do. Auburn turned the position over to sophomore Barrett Trotter and freshman Clint Moseley. Both went through growing pains this spring and struggled at times. While both steadily improved, they still have a ways to go. Neither surpassed the other this spring and will welcome incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier into the mix when he arrives this summer. While all three are talented, experience is a glaring issue.
3. Filling all the holes: The Tigers lost 18 starters (eight on offense and defense and two specialists) from last year’s championship team. Not only will Auburn’s coaches be looking to fill a handful of positions on both sides of the ball but new leaders must emerge. Having young quarterbacks doesn’t help the situation. Coach Gene Chizik hasn’t called this a rebuilding year, but he understands the tough task that is ahead of him. The good thing is that the cupboard isn’t bare. There will just be a big learning curve for most of the athletes out there to begin the season.