In fact, I would say the Tigers are probably as tough to predict as any team in the SEC this year because we aren't sure what the level of play is going to be at the quarterback position. If Auburn's quarterbacks have a good season I believe this team will win some games that will surprise people. If they don't play well the Tigers are going to lose to some people they are supposed to beat.
Combine the questions about the quarterback play with taking the field under new management and it makes the challenge even tougher to get a firm handle on how good the Tigers will be this fall.
I believe Brian VanGorder will do an outstanding job with the defense and the same is true with Scot Loeffler running the offense, but there are adjustments to make. This is Loeffler's first season coordinating an offense in the SEC and his players are running a very different system than they did the past three years.
VanGorder has plenty of experience in the SEC, but he is making changes in the style of play the Tigers must adjust to if they are going to perform up to their potential.
Looking at the Southeastern Conference as a whole, Georgia is favored to win the East and LSU is the favorite in the West. Part of the reason the Bulldogs are the team to beat in their division is that without a doubt Georgia has the easiest schedule of any team in the conference.
A big divisional test for the Bulldogs will be playing at South Carolina. That won't be easy because the Gamecocks have a lot of potential and I really am impressed with their quarterback, Connor Shaw. He is a high school coach's son with a lot of poise and knowledge of the game along with the ability to beat defenses with his arm and feet.
That game in Columbia will be a fun one to watch with Georgia having to deal with South Carolina's talented pass rushers, tailback Marcus Lattimore, Shaw and the road game crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Connor Shaw runs in last season's South Carolina victory over Clemson.
It's interesting how Coach Steve Spurrier has made the cycle from primarily throwing the football and trying to score 100 points to trying to just win games. When he was at Florida with a lot better talent than almost every team the Gators played, he could do whatever he wanted offensively as long as the defense was good, which was normally the case. If you turn it over they get it right back for you. Coach Spurrier hasn't had the same firepower offensively at South Carolina to do that. He's had to rely more on defense and has been more conservative on offense to keep from turning the ball over. You would have to say he has been successful with what he has done in Columbia.
With so many strong teams in the SEC West it is difficult to single out a game as the key one for deciding the divisional championship. The exciting thing for fans is there should be a lot of matchups that could develop into the game of the year in the division.
Looking at Auburn's schedule major challenges will come early and often starting with the opener on Sept. 1st at the Georgia Dome vs. Clemson. I think that game is a big one to set the tone of the season for Coach Chizik's Tigers. It won't be easy. Clemson has a lot of athletes returning who can make big plays, including the quarterback, and is expected to be one of the top teams in the ACC. However, the last time I saw those guys play they scored a lot of points but gave up 70 so they are certainly beatable.
Game two might not be any easier for Auburn as the Tigers open conference play on the road against a Mississippi State team that can put all of its focus on preparing for the Tigers because its other games in the month of September should be easy wins. Other than Auburn, the Bulldogs play Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama in the first month of the season. Winning a divisional game on the road would be big for the Tigers, but beating Auburn would be a monumental win for a Mississippi State program that has struggled vs. the top teams in the conference in recent years. You can count on Auburn getting the Bulldogs' best shot.
(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 player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a 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 writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.