Questions Abound for Defending Champions

Auburn puts its long winning streak on the line with a new look lineup on Saturday vs. Utah State.

Auburn, Ala.--As the Auburn Tigers head into Saturday's 2011 football season opener vs. the Utah State Aggies, Gene Chizik and his coaching staff hope to start finding answers for a huge number of questions about the defending national champions.

First, and foremost, is a team that will be so reliant on inexperienced players ready to take on a heavyweight schedule that includes seven Top 25 teams from the Southeastern Conference with four of those battles on the road?

Other looming questions will include will almost totally rebuilt offensive and defensive fronts be ready for prime time action? The Tigers also suffered major losses in the secondary, the receiving corps and in the kicking game.

True freshman center Reese Dismukes is expected to start vs. the Aggies.

Last, but certainly not least, the question is how tough it will be for the Tigers to excel without SEC Offensive Player of the Year Cameron Newton and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Nick Fairley. Both are now in the NFL.

The Tigers will hit the field on Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff with 18 new starters--eight on offense, eight on defense plus new starters at the punter and place-kicker positions.

Auburn will feature just one senior in the defensive starting lineup, Neiko Thorpe, and he is playing safety for the first time in his career after starting at cornerback on the national championship team.

The Tigers feature just three senior starters on offense. One of those players, left guard Jared Cooper, is making his first college start and another, wide receiver Quindarius Carr, has just three college starts.

Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor is looking for more production from Quindarius Carr.

After opening the 2010 season with 24 seniors on the roster and leaning heavily on that group to lead the Tigers to a 14-0 record, this year's group of seniors will take a backseat to younger players who will be the key performers in determining how good the 2011 team will be.

"If you look at it before we gave out the scholarships to some of the walk-ons (eight) a few weeks ago, we are really playing with somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 scholarships so it's all hands on deck," Chizik said.

The coach said Auburn fans could see as many as 15 true freshmen playing for their team vs. Utah State. "Everybody has to participate," Chizik said. "Offense, defense and particularly special teams, it's going to be team by committee. That's just the way it's going to be."

The good news for the Tigers is that the true freshmen who will play vs. the Aggies are part of a 2011 signee class ranked No. 1 nationally by Tackles Angelo Blackson, Devaunte Sigler and Gabe Wright are newcomers who are expected to see extensive playing time for the defense as backups to true sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, players who saw limited action last year behind Fairley and two other outstanding seniors, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc.

Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said he is expecting to see improvement this season from sophomore tackle Kenneth Carter.

The only true freshman penciled into the starting lineup for the opener is center Reese Dismukes, one of four new starters on the offensive line. At this time last year he was leading Spanish Fort High to what would be a run to the state 5A title. He graduated in December, enrolled at Auburn in January and used the early start to help secure a starting berth.

Other true freshmen who could see significant playing time in the opener on offense include receivers Quan Bray, C.J. Uzomah and Jaylon Denson, tight end Brandon Fulse and running back Tre Mason.

Defensively, freshmen who are expected to play early include safety Erique Florence, linebackers Justin Garrett and Chris Landrum, cornerbacks Robensen Therezie, Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathan Rose.

The young defenders need to fill gaps throughout the defense and many of them could see action on special teams. The Tigers are replacing three of their four starters on the line, two of the three linebacker starters and three of the four first team players in the secondary.

The Tigers are also replacing three of their key receivers on offense along with the Heisman Trophy winner who threw passes to them last season and helped the Tigers lead the nation in passing efficiency.

The new starter at quarterback, Barrett Trotter, has been on the team since the 2008 season, but has seen limited game action. He redshirted as a true freshman, missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury and played in six games last season as the No. 2 QB. He completed 6-9 passes for 64 yards and ran the ball five times for 68 yards in mop-up duty last season.

Saturday's game will be televised by ESPN2 as the Tigers face Utah State for the first time on a football field. The Tigers are favored by three touchdowns vs. the visitors from the Western Athletic Conference, an opponent with 15 returning starters, a fact that probably insures that neither Auburn's players or coaches will head into the opener assuming their nation's longest winning streak of 15 games will increase to 16 without a solid performance on Saturday.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories