Marshall: Lots of Questions For AU Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Coach Tommy Tuberville's football Tigers.

The expectations for Auburn's football team are high and seemingly getting higher as the season draws closer. In its college football preview, The Sporting News recently picked Auburn to finish No. 3 nationally.

Flying in the face of dire predictions by some that last January's Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin would cost Auburn respect and ranking going into next season, the prevailing opinion is that the Tigers should contend for a national championship.

I'd say they could. I wouldn't say they should. Not yet. There are still too many unanswered questions.

Among them:

How effectively will Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick be replaced at the offensive tackles?

Junior King Dunlap and senior Jonathan Palmer were the starters at the end of spring practice. Junior Leon Hart, who has yet to achieve the stardom predicted for him, is still in the picture. All three have plenty of talent, but they have yet to prove themselves. Until they do, there will be uncertainty at a position that was strength in 2005.

Who will fill the significant void left by the loss of Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix at wide receiver?

Obviously, a healthy Courtney Taylor will make a big difference, but he's the only returning receiver who has made big plays on the big stage. At least a freshman or two is going to be called on to make an impact. That can happen at wide receiver, but it would be wise to remember the difference between Obomanu, Aromashodu and Mix when they were freshmen and when they were seniors.

Courtney Taylor is expected to be Auburn's top receiver this season.

Is the defensive line ready for prime time?

Noseguard Tommy Jackson and tackle Wayne Dickens were significant forces inside last season. Josh Thompson had a terrific spring at noseguard, but he has to show he can beat the nagging injuries that have plagued his career so far. It remains to be seen how Christopher Browder adapts to moving from end to tackle. The keys could be Pat Sims and Tez Doolittle, players with immense talent who have yet to harness it on the field.

Who will emerge at safety?

With Will Herring gone to linebacker, spring practice didn't answer that question. There is talent, to be sure, but not a lot of big-game experience.

How will players respond to having to play 12 consecutive weeks without an open date?

No one seems to be paying much attention to what could be a problem. LSU had to do it last season and was running on empty in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. It could be a significant factor.

Who will fill the leadership void left by the likes of Jackson, Dickens, Obomanu, Marcus McNeill, Cooper Wallace, Travis Williams and Antarrious Williams?

This might be the most important question of all. Every college football season is littered with the broken dreams of teams that had the talent to win big but not the chemistry. Chemistry comes from leadership.

Obviously, there is much to like about Auburn's 2006 football team. Brandon Cox and Kenny Irons might be the best quarterback-running back combo in the game. From top to bottom, Auburn's talent level might be at an all-time high, higher even than in the halcyon days of the 1980s.

Kenny Irons returns as a senior and an All-SEC tailback.

First-year coordinator Will Muschamp has invigorated the defense. We all know what Al Borges has done for the offense.

Yes, Auburn has the ingredients to contend for a championship. But so do others. A play here and a play there will determine who celebrates and who is disappointed. So it is every season in the Southeastern Conference.

It should be fun to watch.

Moving on...

The most underappreciated coach at Auburn? It has to be women's golf coach Kim Evans.

Evans has built a program as strong as any in the country. Her teams annually contend for the national championship. The Tigers could win it this season. They also excel in the classroom and as citizens of the community...

A long and hard baseball season will come to an end this weekend when the Tigers go to Arkansas. The Tigers put themselves in good position after a 1-5 start to SEC play by going 7-5 over their next 12 games, but they faltered badly the last two weeks. They'll miss the SEC Tournament for the third consecutive season and miss going to a regional for the second time in three seasons.

Remember you read it here: Next week's SEC Tournament will be the last one in a long time that doesn't include Auburn...

Until next time...

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