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Season recap: Auburn

AUBURN

Record: 7-5, 4-4 SEC

The Tigers carried the defending national champion banner into this season, but it was an entirely different team than the one that went 14-0 and capped the 2010 season with a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

Gene Chizik’s third team on the Plains was about as young as it gets. In fact, the Tigers will probably start as many as 11 underclassmen in the bowl game. They played 17 true freshmen during the season, which was the second most nationally to Texas’ 18.

Despite all the new faces in key spots, Auburn still managed to squeeze out a 7-5 season and wound up .500 in the league.

Just getting to that point was an accomplishment for Chizik and the staff when you consider that the Tigers had trouble stopping people all season long and finished 11th in the SEC in scoring defense (29.3 points) and total defense (405.8 yards). They gave up 1,603 yards of total offense in their first three games.

Offensively, Auburn never really found a rhythm. Barrett Trotter opened the season at quarterback, but Clint Moseley took over in the last five games. The Tigers also worked true freshman Kiehl Frazier into the equation, but were hurt by injuries to top receivers Emory Blake and Trovon Reed and struggled to make anything happen in their downfield passing game.

The finish to the season was what was so disappointing for the Tigers, who lost three of their last four SEC games to LSU, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 132-31 margin.

Offensive MVP: Running back Michael Dyer. Without Dyer, the Tigers would have really been in trouble offensively. He carried the ball 242 times, the second-most carries in the conference, and put together his second straight 1,000-yard season. Dyer’s 1,242 rushing yards averaged out to 103.5 per game. He and Alabama’s Trent Richardson were the only two players in the league to average more than 100 rushing yards per game.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Corey Lemonier. He showed up in flashes as a true freshman, but became a more disciplined player this season as a sophomore and emerged as one of the SEC’s top big-play defenders. Lemonier ranked second in the league with 9.5 sacks and tied for fourth with 13.5 tackles for loss. He also forced five fumbles, tying him for second in the league.

Turning point: Auburn looked like it would get out of October without too much damage. The Tigers had already beaten South Carolina and Florida, but lost at Arkansas. Then came the LSU debacle. Auburn was obliterated in the second half and lost 45-10. Two more blowout losses followed in the final month of the season to Georgia (45-7) and Alabama (42-14).

What’s next: The Tigers will be looking for some momentum heading into the offseason when they take on Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta. Just like a year ago, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has been a hot commodity in head-coaching searches. The Tigers will do what they can to hold onto him.