Auburn (9-3, 7-1)
Offensive Staters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-9-8-13-9
Over the last two seasons, Auburn has won 16 of 17 SEC games with the only loss at LSU last season. Brandon Cox returns at QB and brings his 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns back to the Plains. Even with Cox back, Auburn will rely on its outstanding tailback Kenny Irons. Irons rushed for 1,293 yards including six consecutive 100 yard games. If Irons goes down, backups Tre Smith, Brad Lesters, and Carl Stewart will be serviceable. The Tigers will need to replace three key players who had 12 touchdowns between them last season. The most experienced player returning is Courtney Taylor who was hampered by injuries in 2005 after a promising 2004. On the offensive line, Auburn must replace two starters but the depth they have built through solid recruiting will limit this impact.
An area more of concern will be the defensive line replacing three key cogs. The good news however is that ends Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves are back. Josh Thompson displayed the most ability for interior defenders in spring practice and will likely start at nose guard. A safety last year, but now a linebacker - Will Herring was moved to outside lineback to help sure up a deleted corps. Former backup Karibi Dede and redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon (after suspension) are likely to start at the other two positions. Herring's move left an opening in teh secondary hopefully filled by Tristan Davis and Lorenzo Ferguson at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by David Irons and either Jonathan Wilhite or Montavis Pitts.
Both kickers return (K-Jon Vaughn and P-Kody Bliss), so the Tigers should be solid again on special teams. Devin Aromashodu (24.2 ypr) will have to replaced on kickoffs.
Auburn has the schedule and talent retuning to go undefeated. However, 12 straight games will eventually catch up to Tommy Tuberville and derail their undefeated season.
Prediction: 11-1, 7-1
LSU (10-2, 7-1)
Offensive Staters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 5
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 10-8-13-9-11
Last season was turbulent one for LSU and most the activity happened off the field. Les Miles did about as good as anyone could expect with all events LSU was thrust in the middle of and this season he hopes to maintain the momentum created by a 40-3 thrashing of Miami in the Peach Bowl. JaMarcus Russell has recovered from injury and will be the starter. If he is injured again, Tiger fans can rest easily knowing that Matt Flynn is a proven QB as well. Two former starters (Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent) will be returning in Baton Rouge, but both also have past knee injuries. Catching Russell's passes will be seniors Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis along with junior Early Doucet. Three long time starters were lost to the NFL on the offensive line meaning backups from last year will have to step up to the challenge; left guard Will Arnold is the best of the bunch.
The NFL took three of LSU's d-lineman from a year ago leaving only Chase Pittman back. Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Ryan Willis positioned themselves in the spring for starting positions. At linebacker, Ali Highsmith returns, but the other two positions will have new faces. The secondary features one of the best safeties in the nation, LaRon Landry. Landry passed up the NFL Draft last season to return for his senior season. Two other starters SS Jessie Daniels and CB Chevis Jackson also return to a unit which ranked 11th in pass defense and 3rd in total defense. This defensive unit has a tall task repeating last year's stats, but the talent is there.
Chris Jackson will handle placekicking and punting duties this season again. However, Jaqeuz Green is lost from the return game.
LSU has the talent to compete for a national title but trips to Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee will be tough to come out unscathed from.