For me as a head coach the excitement always started in the middle of the summer. Once we got to the 4th of July, I knew football was almost here. When I was at Auburn, when we went to Birmingham for SEC Media Days that was a sign that the season was getting really close.
From my vantage point a lot of groups of fans in the Southeastern Conference have reasons to be excited about the 2011 season. I know that is the case at Arkansas where the fans have every right to look forward to the season as Coach (Bobby) Petrino goes into his fourth year there. It looks like the Razorbacks could have a really strong team with an outstanding offense and the possibility of an improved defense.
Folks at LSU have reasons to be excited, too. I personally think LSU has a good chance to be a lot better than it was last year because their quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, is going to be a lot better. If for some reason he is not, then I think you are going to have an LSU team that is kind of like it was last year. They will be good, but they won't be great.
Jordan Jefferson plays quarterback for LSU.
Mississippi State has got that big quarterback, Chris Relf, returning this season and Coach (Dan) Mullen is going into in his third year in Starkville. I think he has a football program that is on the rise and his team will be improved this year. Those folks have got to be excited about that team, their coach and what's going on there.
I think whether you like him or don't like him, it isn't wise to underestimate Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt. His teams are unpredictable. When they are not supposed to be very good they have had some great years. When they were supposed to be good, they have had some big disappointments so you don't know which team is going to show up this year at Ole Miss. However, Coach Nutt has proven that he can produce a winning football team. It's just a matter of which one shows up. This year his biggest problem is just like everyone else's biggest problem in the SEC West. Every team in the division is good.
Then you've got Alabama sitting there in the division with a lot of returning talent from last year. The major question mark for that team is who will be the quarterback and how that position is going to turn out. Everywhere else on that football team there is solid depth. I think that has been shown by the number of Alabama players on the preseason all-conference teams.
With Auburn losing so many starters the expectations are lower for the Tigers, but I am excited about watching this team. I know Coach (Gene) Chizik and his staff have talented young players that we haven't seen yet.
When you have got young players you know they are going to make some mistakes, but they are going to do some great things, too, if they have got talent and ability. Based on what I've seen, the Tigers do have talent.
Auburn's coaches have done a great job recruiting the last three seasons starting with their first class they put together with a late start after the coaching transition. Then they have those kids from the 2010 recruiting class who did so well last season to put together with the incoming 2011 class, which looks like it is another strong group. We can only speculate on how the young players will do, but it is an exciting time for the Auburn program. We know this team has ability to work with again this year.
When a team has so many young players, we can speculate what this one or that one is going to do, but you don't really know until everybody shows up on the practice field and the pads go on. Everybody's excited about the freshman quarterback (Kiehl Frazier) from Arkansas, and he may be one of those who is mature enough and far enough along from running this offense in high school to come in and compete and be a factor. Nobody knows. I do know that I am excited about Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley, the two quarterbacks who were running the team in spring training.
Clint Moseley throws a pass in this year's A-Day spring game.
I don't think there is a doubt that this team, overall, will have more talent than last year's national champions, but the Tigers don't have a Nick Fairley on defense or a Cam Newton on offense. It remains to be seen if the defense can replace Josh Bynes at linebacker or tough guys up front like Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc.
That being said, a defense doesn't necessarily have to have great players on the defensive line to win, but it does need winners lining up at the two technique (defensive tackle) to be successful. I know this year's Auburn team has got some folks outside at end who came make something happen, players like Nosa Eguae, Corey Lemonier, Craig Sanders and Dee Ford, and they will have some other young ones coming in behind them who can play.
Auburn's linebacker play is a little bit of a question to me after losing two senior starters off the championship team, but you don't have to have a superstar at linebacker to have a strong defense. In 1988 we had Quentin Riggins at linebacker, a player who was really undersized to play in the SEC, but he had a great year and was a key player on what was one of the best defensive football teams Auburn ever had.
Another reason I am excited about seeing the Tigers play this year is that I believe the secondary is going to be more talented and that will pay dividends. I also think the team has the players to get a better outside pass rush than last year so that should help the secondary.
I think the toughest part of the 2011 season for Auburn will be those five road games against strong teams, each which has a chance to be better than it was last year.
Four of those road games are against SEC opponents, which is always a challenge. I think that is particularly the case in this era because I don't think I have ever seen a conference that has better overall coaching than what we are seeing in the SEC. That is where it all starts. They run the program, they do the recruiting and they are responsible for the whole ball of wax as far as getting them lined up, how they're playing, getting them motivated and developing the chemistry on the team, which is so important to success.
From the Mailbag:
It's good to hear someone in an position of authority express the belief that as a nation we are getting soft. I have been an Auburn Tiger for many years although I never attended Auburn as a student I have always been a fan. I attended many functions as a grammar school and high school student on campus. Keep up the good articles and may God bless you beyond your wildest dreams.
Forth Worth, Texas
What I wrote is what I believe. I am glad you enjoyed it.
I just read your latest article about the military and discipline and agree with most everything you wrote. The Winds of War is a wonderful book, and Herman Wouk's research was excellent. Don't miss the sequel, War and Remembrance, which is also a good read.
And one other thing. Don't go on Paul Finebaum's show ever again.
Suzanne Peavy King
Thanks for your comments. I am reading War and Remembrance now and I will be on the Finebaum show. I don't make any money doing it, but I have access to equipment that I use on my farm that I could not afford otherwise. You just have to not take Paul and a lot of his comments too seriously. It is entertainment.
I live in Camden. Billy Johnson is my second cousin and David Jordan is a good friend of mine. I just wanted to tell you how much we all enjoyed having you in Camden a few weeks ago. I could have just sat there and listened for hours. I really hated that my son Ross missed it, but he is in school at Auburn this summer and could not make it. He has grown up with Bo Jackson jerseys and what not hearing me talk about how great Auburn was back then.
When he was 10 years old he had cancer and David was asked to be a guest at Tiger Walk, and he took Ross with him. You talk about a little boy being excited. I told him it is kind of ironic that my first year at Auburn was Coach Dye's first year and his first year was Coach Chizik's first year. Like you said, I believe Auburn is in better shape than it has ever been. It is good to see that you are still such a good ambassador for the University and I really enjoy reading the Dye-Gest so keep up the good work.
I appreciate the kind words. The more I see of Coach Chizik and the job that staff is doing, the more I am impressed with them. I don't think there is a better coaching staff in the country and Gene is the one who hired them.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye also writes the Dye-Log and Pat's Picks columns for AUTigers.com.