The dog days of summer are upon us. The 2011-12 collegiate athletic season is over and we are some seven weeks from college football. Between now and then I will be doing capsules on the other 13 teams in the conference. The 2011 season will be briefly reviewed and a team by team break down of the schedule will be included along with a couple of keys to the season. Stats and returning starters will come from Phil Steele. Today we will take a look at Auburn.
Team: Auburn Tigers
Coach: Gene Chizik (35-29 overall) 4th year at Auburn
Last season: 2011 saw a significant drop off from the year before when transfer Cam Newton led Auburn to a 14-0 dream season that saw the Tigers win the SEC and BCS crowns. Newton brought home the Heisman in an unparalleled season that was often filled with off-season distractions. The 2011 edition Auburn squad posted an 8-5 overall record while breaking even in conference at 4-4. The season got off to a potentially scary start by barely edging out pay for play Utah State in a 42-38 thriller. Auburn held off Mississippi State on the last play with a goal line stand to start conference play 1-0. Week three saw Chizik and the Tigers tripping to Clemson. What looked like a W ended up as a sign of things to come as the Auburn defense could not hold onto a late 2Q 21-7 lead as Tajh Boyd led Clemson on TD drives of over 60 yards.
Breaking down further....
Auburn returned home to notch a sloppy win over Florida Atlantic before taking the road to South Carolina. The upset of the # 10 Gamecocks ended up being the season highlight for Auburn as the Tiger defense somehow held Carolina to under 300 yards of total offense. The following week, Auburn posted a touchdown lead over Arkansas in the opening quarter but were shutout the rest of the game as Arkansas posted a solid 38-14 thumping of Chizik's third team. Auburn returned home to take on a reeling Florida team that had lost two quarterbacks on back-to-back blow out losses by the eventual BCS CG contestants in LSU and Auburn. Auburn was able to take advantage of an inept Florida offense and capitalize on three fumbled punts en route to a win 17-6 win over longtime rival Florida. A win over hapless Ole Miss was sandwiched around woodshed level beatings delivered by LSU and bitter rival Georgia. Auburn locked up a winning season by rolling pay for play Samford before Alabama exacted revenge for the 2010 miracle comeback win with a 42-14 win in the Iron Bowl. Auburn was able to regroup and chalk a solid win over a decent Virginia team in the Chik-Fil-A bowl.
Best case / worst case: (10-2/4-8) Looking forward to 2012, Auburn has just four sure wins on the slate. Paid for W’s will come via University of Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State, and Alabama A&M. Ole Miss is as sure of an SEC win as one will find in the SEC West. After that, every other game on the schedule is a toss up, save for LSU and Alabama who will outclass Auburn again in 2012. Auburn opens the season in the Georgia Dome against a Clemson team that bested Auburn the year prior. However, the availability of Sammy Watkins has yet to be determined and he is the straw that stirs the drink in Pickens county. Week two will see Mississippi State host Auburn in a game that both teams need desperately to win to have a successful year. The Tigers get Arkansas after a bye week, and there is enough uncertainty at Arkansas that makes this game a toss up.
Vanderbilt, long a sure thing for the traditional “power six” in the SEC, has staged a mini uprising under James Franklin. Auburn gets the Commodores in Nashville, and Franklin could spring the upset, especially if Auburn has a couple Ls in the left column. Auburn hosts A&M (in what should be a fun rivalry) and Georgia before and after homecoming win New Mexico State. Auburn should win the A&M game and anything can happen in the South’s Oldest Rivalry. Alabama A&M should serve to get Auburn bowl eligible, if need be, before Auburn trips to Tuscaloosa. Projecting anything past 7-5 for this Auburn squad would be a stretch. The Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama games all lean away from Auburn, but are certainly games Auburn could win. Look for Auburn to play well in the opener, but follow it up with a loss in what will be Dan Mullen’s first win against an SEC West team not named Ole Miss. After ULM and LSU, September will end with Auburn at 2-2. Arkansas will be tough, but Auburn should follow it up with three straight against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and A&M. Another 2-2 down the stretch will land a 7-5 Auburn in one of the myriad mid level bowls with SEC tie ins.
Losses: Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Arkansas
Wins: ULM, New Mexico State, Ole Miss, Alabama A&M
Toss ups: Clemson, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M.
Keys: Chizik decided to over haul his coaching staff by bringing in new coordinators. SEC fans are familiar with the strong work done by Brian Van Gorder under Mark Richt during the early 2000’s. Scot Loeffler has SEC experience under Urban Meyer. Loeffler has experience in multiple systems and should do well at adopting the current talent to his pro style with spread elements offense. Mike Dyer transferred during the off-season, but keep an eye on Mike Blakely the transfer from Florida.
Bryant Roberts is a life long SEC fan, has 2 autographed pictures of Steve Spurrier, is addicted to BBQ, and a graduate of Presbyterian College. Follow him on twitter here.