ANALYSIS: Tests come early at home (Mississippi State) and on the road (Clemson). If Auburn wins those, it could get to the 'Bama game with plenty at stake.
SCOUTING REPORT On one of the first days of spring practice, Gene Chizik instructed his players to gather around him and take a knee. Then Chizik asked his Auburn Tigers, the reigning BCS national champions, a simple question: "If you've started five or more games here, would you please raise your hand?""I'll tell you what: Not many hands went up," Chizik says, laughing as he recalls the scene. "We are going to be very, very young this season. Even true freshmen will have to help out. But that's OK The standard here is not changing. We're still eyeing a championship. We may have some growing pains, but the first thing we have to do is put last year's team in the rearview mirror."Gone from the Tigers' roster are the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley and 15 other starters who helped Auburn win its first national title since 1957. This year's squad will be as inexperienced as any in the SEC, yet Chizik has enough talented young players to be the envy of many a coach. For the last two years Auburn's recruiting classes have been universally ranked among the nation's top five."We have players who are more than capable of filling big shoes," says sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae, one of three returning starters on defense. "We feel like we're going to shock a lot of people."The key to the offense will be the play of junior quarterback Barrett Trotter, who has thrown only nine passes in his college career. Trotter has a big arm -- he tossed 88 touchdown passes at Briarwood Christian High in Birmingham, third most in state history -- and in the spring he displayed more down-the-field accuracy than Newton had. All signs point to Trotter's taking command of the position over sophomore Clint Moseley and true freshman Kiehl Frazier.Only two seniors, linebacker Eltoro Freeman and safety Neiko Thorpe, will start on defense. "Of course that's worrisome," says Chizik. "But the upside of having so many young guys playing is that we won't have any type of hangover from last year. Our players are hungry."That may be so, but Auburn, for all the promise in its pipeline, is at least a year away from contending for another SEC championship. THE BIG IF Will the untested Trotter emerge at quarterback and use his strong arm to get the ball to Auburn's potent big-play threats? TELLING NUMBER 499.2 -- Average yards per game gained by the 2010 Tigers' offense, the most for an SEC team since Florida in '01. KEY RETURNEES Emory Blake, WR, Jr. -- The son of Jeff Blake, a former NFL QB, he led Auburn with eight touchdown catches last year -- including one in the national championship game -- and was third on the team with 33 receptions. A solid route runner with reliable hands, Blake is also a home run threat. Nosa Eguae, DE, So. -- After starting 11 games as a freshman, Eguae will be Auburn's most experienced defensive lineman. How dominating can he be? In the SEC championship game against South Carolina, he had 2½ tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry.Neiko Thorpe, S, Sr. -- A punishing hitter, Thorpe moves to safety after leading the team with nine pass breakups last year as a cornerback. He showed impressive range in the defensive backfield in the spring.Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Jr. -- The player with the longest combined first and last names in Auburn history, Lutzenkirchen set a single-season school record for a tight end with his five touchdown receptions in 2010. Michael Dyer, RB, So. -- The super frosh averaged 6.0 yards per rush on his way to setting an Auburn freshman record with 1,093 yards. Even more impressive: Only six of Dyer's 182 carries resulted in negative yardage. BREAKOUT PLAYER Trovon Reed, WR/PR, Fr. -- Reed only played two snaps last year before aggravating a high school knee injury, forcing him to redshirt. Now 100 percent healthy, Reed, whom Scout.com ranked No. 7 at wide receiver in 2009 out of Thibodaux (La.) High, has Cam Newton-esque playmaking ability. He'll line up in the slot, take snaps out of the Wildcat formation and return kicks. TOP RECRUIT Kiehl Frazier, QB, Fr. -- Auburn offensive coordinator and QB coach Gus Malzahn, a former coach at Springdale (Ark.) High, has had his eye on Frazier since Frazier was an eighth-grader in that town. As a senior, the 6-3, 210-pounder passed for 42 TDs and ran for 22 more.This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' SEC Preview.
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