You might think Auburn Tiger fans would have been miserable this off season after Alabama won the BCS Championship, but the excitement on the Plains has been hard to contain.
After a surprising nine win season a year ago and a stellar recruiting haul in February, Auburn has high hopes in 2010.
Who is going to run Gus Malzahn's offense? Why will the defense be better? Can the Tigers win the West?
To get some answers to these questions I contacted Kevin McGrady, an Auburn Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report for his insight.
Q: Despite Alabama winning the national title, it seems Auburn has just as much momentum going into this year after the recruiting haul in February. What is the overall mood of the fan base going into the season?
A: The Auburn fan base is as excited as I ever remember them being to start a season. They showed up in droves for the spring game and fan appreciation day in August. Most of them are looking forward to an exciting and enjoyable season.
Q: Does Cam Newton have the job locked down at QB?
A: Cameron Newton will certainly be the starting quarterback. The team is behind him being the quarterback. That being said, Gus Malzahn has commented that this year is the best quarterback situation he has ever had. He thinks there are four quarterbacks on the roster that can do well running the offense.
Q: Who steps up and takes over as the lead back now that Ben Tate has departed?
A: Senior Mario Fannin will be the leading running back this year. He will be followed by sophomore Onterio McCalebb and freshman Michael Dyer. This is a very talented and effective backfield combination.
Q: Receiver was a very weak spot for the Tigers last year. Who could have a breakout year here?
A: Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery, and Mario Fannin the three lead receivers in 2009 combined for a disappointing 1,887 yards total. Auburn is looking for help from players like senior Quindarius Carr, sophomore Emory Blake, and sophomore Philip Pierre-Louis to help pick up the slack.
Freshmen Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens, and Trovon Reed have all been complemented on their preseason performance as well.
Q: What do you think it will take for SEC fans to accept that OC Gus Malzahn's offense is not a gimmick offense?
A: For the Gus Malzahn offense to be totally embraced, consistency is the key. For the most part, Auburn fans were pleased with the offensive progress, but offensive draughts in big games is an area of concern.
Q: The defense was the weak link last year. Tell me why it will be better this season?
A: The Auburn defense was snake bit with injuries in 2009. There were seven players that were either starters or high in the playing rotation that missed all or several games with injuries. All of these players return healthier this season.
Q: How much respect is Clemson getting as an opponent from the ACC?
A: Auburn fans see Clemson as a formidable foe. They will certainly be the most difficult out of conference game this year. The return of quarterback Kyle Parker only emphasized this feeling.
Q: Can Gene Chizik get Auburn over the hump and start to turn the Georgia series back in the Tigers' favor?
A: Even if Auburn wins the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” this year, the jury will be out on that. Georgia is in a state of flux while changing to a new defensive scheme. This is an answer Auburn fans will have to wait a while longer for.
Q: Who are some of the freshmen that are likely to contribute?
A: Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker has shown promise in camp. He will play in the game rotation. Defensive end Corey Lemonier has drawn much praise from the coaching staff. He is expected to make the playing rotation. Linebacker Harris Gaston has been mentioned for playing time this year. Trovon Reed, Antonio Goodwin, and Shaun Kitchens have all drawn attention as receivers. They look to contribute this year. Michael Dyer and Ladarious Phillips hope to contribute early and often this year.
Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one
A: Eight wins in 2010 would be terribly disappointing for Auburn fans, they expect improvement over 2009. Most fans would be content with nine or 10 wins. A successful season would mean serious contention for the SEC western division at a minimum.
Q: What is your prediction for this season?
vs. Arkansas State 85 percent chance of win
at Mississippi State 80 percent
vs. Clemson 65 percent
vs. South Carolina 65 percent
vs. Louisiana-Monroe 85 percent
at Kentucky 80 percent
vs. Arkansas 50 percent
vs. LSU 50 percent
at Mississippi *
vs. Chattanooga 95 percent
vs. Georgia 50 percent
at Alabama 50 percent
SEC Championship making 30 percent
That makes five likely wins, two probable wins, and three tossups. My overall prediction is a 10-2 season with a slim chance at an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
My Take on Auburn...
I will admit I was off on how Gene Chizik would do in his first year. I thought they would sneak into a bowl, but eight wins and nearly beating Alabama was off the radar.
The receivers and offensive line should be better this year. If Cam Newton can keep his head on straight all year they will be better on offense.
Defensively, I see an improvement in terms of depth, but they still have a ways to go to be a top SEC unit. But if they can be 25 percent better then it will take pressure off the offense to feel the need to score every time.
Auburn gets Georgia and South Carolina from the East at home while having to travel to Kentucky, whom they lost to last season.
They face an early SEC West test in Starkville in Week 2 on a Thursday night.
The week after they host Clemson in an ACC vs SEC matchup.
I can see the Tigers going undefeated at home this year and that could give them a chance to play for the West title in Tuscaloosa the last week of the season.
9-3, second SEC West
Thanks again to Kevin for his insight. Please check out his profile for other Auburn pieces.Previews SEC Previews: