Auburn season preview

Today we're looking at Auburn, as the Tigers look to get back to being competitive in the SEC West with the return of Gus Malzahn.

Coach: Gus Malzahn (9-3 overall, 0-0 at Auburn)

2012 record: 3-9, 0-8 SEC

Key losses: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates

Key returners: RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes, WR Ricardo Louis, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, CB Chris Davis, S Demetruce McNeal

Newcomer to watch: Freshman defensive end Carl Lawson has impressed the staff since stepping on campus and has the tools to help improve Auburn's pass rush this fall.

Biggest games in 2013: Washington State, Aug. 31; Mississippi State, Sept. 14; Ole Miss, Oct. 5; at Arkansas, Nov. 2; at Tennessee, Nov. 9

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: With the news that Kiehl Frazier is moving to safety, Auburn's quarterback battle is down to three players. Right now, it looks like newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are pulling ahead of sophomore Jonathan Wallace, who started the final four games for Auburn last season. Marshall and Johnson have been very impressive this fall and split first-team reps during Tuesday's scrimmage. Regardless of who starts, Malzahn will have his eighth different starting quarterback in eight years.

Forecast: Auburn returns a handful of starters on both sides of the ball, but neither side was very good at all last season. Auburn ranked last in the SEC in total offense and 13th in total defense. Auburn barely scored 18 points per game and allowed nearly 30. All of that has to change in 2013, and with Malzahn back on the Plains, many believe it will.

Offensively, with the return of the spread offense, the Tigers will no longer be trying to put a square peg into a round hole. The Tigers had spread players last season, but were running a very uncomfortable pro-style attack that drastically set the offense back. While this team still has to figure out who its starting quarterback will be, the offense will likely revolve around running back Tre Mason, who was Auburn's only offensive weapon last season, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. He can be a downhill threat and has the ability to make plays in space.

A solid offensive line returns, but the Tigers are still looking for more consistency at receiver. The hope is that former big-time recruit Ricardo Louis' big spring translates to the fall, and that Quan Bray and Trovon Reed reach their big-play potential.

Defensively, coordinator Ellis Johnson wants a much more aggressive unit with his 4-2-5 scheme and might have budding stars in "Star" Justin Garrett and cornerback Chris Davis. There is talent up front, but the defensive line has to be much more disruptive this fall, and the secondary can't allow the big plays that crippled it in 2012.

There's no question that Auburn has the talent to return to a bowl game, but it's all about development. The Tigers just didn't have it during the last two years of the Gene Chizik era, but Malzhan and Co. have made it a priority. Johnson should have the defense in much better shape, while an improved offense will be a major reason why the Tigers return to the postseason in 2013.