- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Schedule: The Tigers’ first practice is on Wednesday at 4:55 p.m. ET, and their first day in full pads is next Monday. They open the season on Sept. 1 against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Returning starters: Seven on offense, nine on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.
Star power: Senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of the most polished tight ends in college football and just has a knack for getting open.
New faces: Junior fullback Jay Prosch, a transfer from Illinois, should make a big impact in the running game with his ability to open up running lanes. True freshman Jovon Robinson, the biggest tailback the Tigers have at 220 pounds, may be the banger they need. True freshman Patrick Miller, who went through the spring, could see some time at right offensive tackle, while redshirt freshman receiver Sammie Coates has a huge upside. He just needs to be more consistent.
Don’t forget about: Junior defensive end Dee Ford was done after the first three games a year ago. He underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc last September, but came back with a vengeance this spring and was one of the Tigers’ best defenders. Ford and Corey Lemonier generated some serious pressure off the edge, and Ford won Defensive MVP honors in Auburn’s A-Day spring game.
Big shoes to fill: Despite Michael Dyer’s issues off the field, he was Auburn’s only offense for much of last season and finished second in the SEC with 1,242 rushing yards. Now that he’s gone, sophomore Tre Mason will probably get first shot at being the feature back, although senior Onterio McCalebb remains one of the league’s best outside running threats. Sophomore Corey Grant, who originally signed with Alabama, will also get a look as will redshirt freshman Mike Blakely, a transfer from Florida.
Key battle: The Tigers still haven’t settled on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier is probably the favorite, but he still has to prove himself as a passer. Junior Clint Moseley started in six games after taking over for Barrett Trotter last season, so he has experience on his side. However it shakes out, this will be the fourth different starting quarterback in as many years to open the season for Auburn coach Gene Chizik.
Rising star: Sophomore Jermaine Whitehead will make his home at safety this season, but he’s versatile enough to also play the nickel position. The Tigers need some stability in their defensive backfield, and Whitehead showed enough as a true freshman last season that he can be a real difference-maker back there.
Bottom line: The two coordinators (Scot Loeffler on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense) are new, but there are a lot of familiar faces returning on the roster. The Tigers welcome back 18 starters, and that’s after they returned just seven from their 2010 national championship team. Auburn was young on both lines of scrimmage last season. The Tigers’ strength this season should be up front on defense, which should help cut down on the number of big plays they gave up a year ago. It’s equally important that they improve up front on offense, and the development of redshirt freshman left tackle Greg Robinson will be critical. There won’t be any warm-ups for the Tigers. The month of September opens with the Clemson matchup in Atlanta and ends with LSU paying a visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium. In other words, we’ll have a pretty good feel for this Auburn team by the time the calendar flips to October.