There might not be a more compelling team in the SEC this spring than Auburn. As Gus Malzahn enters his third season as head coach, he is having to replace his starting quarterback, his top two running backs and his No. 1 wide receiver, all while the defense goes through a complete face-lift with a new coordinator on board.
There are simply more questions than answers on the Plains right now.
So that got us thinking. What will be more intriguing to watch come Saturday when the Tigers play their annual spring game, the offense or the defense?
Greg Ostendorf: Seeing Will Muschamp back on the Auburn sideline for the first time will be something, but I’m going to be focused more on the offense. That’s Malzahn’s bread and butter. If this team expects to win another SEC title, it’s going to hinge on the offense.
Now I think we both can agree that Jeremy Johnson will be the starting quarterback when Auburn opens the season against Louisville in the Georgia Dome. But what exactly will this offense look like? They’re not going to run 70 percent of the time like they have the past two seasons. Nick Marshall is gone. So what’s the split going to look like with more of a pure pocket passer running the show?
Obviously, Malzahn is not going to show his hand Saturday for a spring game. But maybe we get a glimpse of what’s to come. Maybe we see that big arm that Johnson has teased us with over the years. I think everybody is excited to see what he can do as the full-time starter, and some even believe he can be a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy.
How many yards and touchdowns will he have to throw for to do that? The coaches also say he’s a pretty good runner in his own right, but I have to see it to believe it.
Alex Scarborough: I'm tired of seeing Auburn score points. Tired of Malzahn pumping his fist in celebration. Tired of Duke Williams jumping over undersized cornerbacks. I'm tired of the endless shootouts.
So give me defense. Just some defense. Any defense, really. Because if I'm to believe in Auburn's championship hopes for 2015, I need to see Muschamp, the new defensive coordinator, breathe some life into what has been a tired unit of late.
With Muschamp now on board, along with new assistants Lance Thompson and Travaris Robinson, I want to watch their impact closely on Saturday.
While I don't see a top-three defense in the SEC emerging overnight, I do believe that there are enough parts to work with to make a difference, especially up front. In fact, the return of Carl Lawson is probably the highlight of the spring game for me. If he's healthy and can maximize his considerable talent, it could create a ripple effect from the linemen next to him (paging Montravius Adams) to the linebackers to the secondary.
Ostendorf: I’ll give you this -- I’m ready to see Lawson back on the field and healthy again. It’s been over a year now since he last played a game.
But I’ll take your Lawson pick and raise you Jovon Robinson. Who doesn’t want to see the nation’s No. 1 junior college player in action for the first time? Do you remember what Duke Williams did in his debut? He caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in last year’s spring game. The whole stadium was already chanting his name.
I don’t know that Robinson will make that kind of splash, but there’s a reason the coaches have been raving about him all spring. He has a legitimate shot to be Auburn’s starting running back next fall despite only being on campus for a little over three months. And who knows? Maybe they will be chanting his name by the time it’s over Saturday.
Scarborough: Robinson does have a chance to be a special player. In that offense, he and Roc Thomas could be downright lethal. But, again, I'm already confident that will happen.
The same goes for Johnson stepping in at quarterback. It's an interesting storyline, but we've already seen him start a game in SEC play. So a spring game isn't going to show me anything I don't already know.
The defense, on the other hand, has a lot to prove.
I understand that cornerback Jonathan Jones is out, so we won't see a full complement on defense. But I'm ready to see how former Georgia DB Tray Matthews takes advantage of his second chance at Auburn. Two other new faces I want to check out are early enrollees Maurice Swain and Tim Irvin.