THE SEASON AHEAD: AUBURN
What to make of this Auburn team? This is a tough one for C&F, who might very well be more of an Auburn homer (he grew up a Tiger fan) than a South Carolina homer when it comes to analysis -- simply because there’s more of a reason to feel confident about Auburn than South Carolina, at least based on past performance. (To be clear, he still favors the Gamecocks over the Tigers when they face each other.) And it’s easier to see the warts on a team when you’re looking at it more closely, so he sees more of South Carolina’s shortcomings.
This, though, looks even to C&F like it could be a rough season for Auburn.
The wild card is Brandon Cox. If he improves -- and the WR corps takes a leap forward -- it could be a big year. But the line is in disarray, something that plagued the team last year despite an 11-2 record. Auburn allowed 35 sacks, an average of almost three a game. Brad Lester is a solid running back. Al Borges is good at making do, but that will be a stiff challenge with this unit.
Quentin Groves and his 11 sacks have to scare opposing offensive coordinators. Josh Thompson, with 4.5 sacks among his 43 tackles, isn’t exactly a slouch. The line backing corps is full of thin resumes. The secondary returns three starters.
Kicking is a question mark, as is punting. Tristan Davis, the likely kick returner, was solid handling those duties in 2006.
Don’t underestimate Tommy Tuberville, He survived a coup that ended up claiming higher-ranking officials in the Auburn hierarchy, and his last five years has gone (from most recent to least) 11-2, 9-2, 12-0, 7-5 and 8-4, with each year capped off by a defeat of Alabama. Auburn has gone bowling every year since 1999. Tuberville also has two solid coordinators in Borges and Will Muschamp.
His ears can also generate enough wind to power a small city.
The schedule this year is manageable. (Is it ever not for Auburn?) But there are two tough nonconference games to kick things off: Kansas State and South Florida both come to the Plains. Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Tennessee Tech, at Georgia and Alabama are all good chances for wins. But at Florida, at Arkansas and at LSU all look difficult. A 9-3 season looks good, but 8-4 might be more reasonable. No one should rule out 7-5, meaning Bobby Lowder will be fueling up the plane any moment now.