Having already begun fall practice, the 2012 Auburn Tigers should provide more a threat during the 2012 season than last year’s above-average team was able to do. With a tough opening game against Clemson, Coach Gene Chizik and the Tigers are going to have to show what they are made of immediately after finishing 8-5 in 2011.
The inexperience of last season’s team will continue with this year’s team that still mostly consists of underclassmen. However, the 2012 Tigers will still have more experience and talent than last year. Combining those factors with new offense coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Auburn has the content to produce success.
There is a large question mark with the Tigers offensively as a quarterback battle between sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley continued into August with a winner still not picked. The bulk of the rest of the offensive questions lie with who is going to step up at receiver, line and running back behind Auburn’s standard household names.
Defensively, Auburn’s front one is arguably going to be one of the best in the SEC, which is a substantial improvement from last year. VanGorder will have depth with the linebackers, but will not have much experience. The secondary, which will have experience, is the largest question mark on defense after struggling with passing offenses last year.
Auburn’s nickname of Running Back U was not given undeserved and will once again be proven in 2012. Despite the departure of Michael Dyer, the Tigers will have numerous runners in the backfield, including Onterio McCalebb. The senior finished the 2011 season with a net of 641 rushing yards, which was second best on the team, and had the second most receptions and yards. Along with Tre Mason, Corey Grant and others, the running backs are expected to catch more passes this season than in the past.
The running game, and passing game for that matter, should be substantially improved this season with the addition of Illinois transfer Jay Prosch. A big, physical player, Prosch has the ability to not only open holes for rushers, but also is able to help protect the quarterback from rushes.
Emory Blake returns to the field after leading the team in receptions (36) and yards (613) in 2011. Auburn has been looking for a player to become a secondary target behind Blake as the senior is expected for a huge last season for Chizik and Co.
Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen will play a huge impact in Loeffler’s offensive scheme that is very friendly to his position. While the senior recorded 24 catches for 238 yards and team-leading seven touchdowns last year, Loeffler’s tight end at Temple last year led the team in recpetions. Taking his size, hands and clutch play into consideration, Lutzenkirchen may be the secondary receiver on the team in 2012.
After allowing an average of 28.9 points per game last season, the Tigers’ defense should be much improved this year. With a strong front seven, the real question lies with the secondary.
End Corey Lemonier came into his own in 2011 as a sophomore, becoming a threat off the edge. After recording a team-leading 13 1/2 tackles for a loss and 9 1/2 sacks, it is hard to believe the junior has gotten better, but the way teammates have spoken about Lemonier seems to say that he has improved.
Daren Bates quietly led last season’s team in tackles (104). Returning for his senior year, Bates provides the most experience at linebacker. Although his 5-11, 205-pound frame does not fit VanGorder’s want of big linebackers, Bates found comfort in the position the past two years after moving from the secondary following his freshman season.
Experience in the secondary is provided mostly through T’Sharvan Bell. A major knee injury ended his season early last year, but the senior has been dedicated toward recovering. After recording 45 tackles and two interceptions in 2011, Bell missed all of spring drills while still healing. He is expected to be back this fall ready to play.
Auburn’s schedule provides competition that any team in the SEC West should expect to face. Starting the season off against a good Clemson team, the Tigers immediately jump into conference play on the road. With a rough five-game stretch of only conference games, Auburn will have battle after battle against SEC foes.
Here is the breakdown:
Must-win Games: 9/15 vs. Louisiana-Monroe, 10/13 at Ole Miss, 10/20 at Vanderbilt, 10/27 Texas A&M, 11/3 New Mexico State, 11/17 Alabama A&M
Swing Games: 9/1 Clemson, 9/8 at Mississippi State
The Big Ones: 9/22 vs. LSU, 10/6 vs. Arkansas, 11/10 vs. Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama
Mississippi State in recent history has played Auburn close at home despite not having beaten the Tigers since 2007, which was on the road. The Big Three of the SEC will provide tough tests for Auburn. However, the venue location could not be more in Auburn’s favorite. The Tigers beat LSU, Arkansas and Georgia the last time all three traveled to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Alabama has only beaten Auburn once in the history of the Iron Bowl being played in Tuscaloosa (2008).