Auburn's football team will be tested as it rarely has in an opener, traveling across the country to play Southern California in the famed Los Angeles Coliseum.
There is little doubt Tommy Tuberville's fourth Auburn team is his most talented. Is it a team ready to contend for a championship? We'll all know soon enough.
My preseason Auburn report card:
*Daniel Cobb clearly won the job during two-a-days. He has all the things you look for in a quarterback--size, strength athleticism,
maturity. The only real question is if he can overcome the tendency he showed last year to make bad plays at the worst possible times. Jason
Campbell certainly is one of the more capable backups in the SEC.
*TAILBACK: Carnell Williams is a great football player, pure and
simple. If he stays healthy, he will be among the nation's best. Ronnie
Brown and Chris Butler could start for many SEC teams. Freshman Tre Smith,
quick, strong and tough, has a tremendous upside.
*Fullback For the first time in his career, Brandon Johnson will be a
significant part of the offense. He languished on the sideline most of last
season, a puzzling situation for a team struggling to score points. Johnson
is widely regarded as the toughest man on the team, a player who goes so
hard he literally makes himself sick. Jake Slaughter, the backup, is in the
same mold. Victor Horn, the third-stringer, has the athletic ability of a
* WIDE RECEIVER: Senior Marcel Willis has shown he can be a big-time
receiver when he's healthy. The problem is he hasn't been healthy for more
than a year. Silas Daniels has had an impressive preseason, but he still has
to show he can do it when it counts. Jeris McIntyre has been up and down.
Freshmen Ben Obomanu, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashodu, Montae Pitts and
Courtney Taylor could all be playing key roles before the season is over,
but until they do it, they must be considered question marks.
*TIGHT END: Lorenzo Diamond and Robert Johnson already gave Auburn
perhaps the best pair in the conference. Throw in redshirt freshman Cooper
Wallace, a star in spring practice, and the position is even stronger. The tight ends are going to get plenty of passes thrown their way in Bobby Petrino's offense.
*OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Monreko Crittenden is set at strong tackle. Mark
Pera will be the man at weak tackle, though he may share time with redshirt
freshman Steven Ross. While Pera was out with a bad hip flexor, Ross made
quite an impression. It's popular in some quarters to bash Crittenden
because of the problems he had with speed rushers last season, but in truth,
he is a potential high draft pick. He will almost always be covered by the
tight end in Petrino's scheme. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bourgeois and
sophomore Ryan Broome could make their moves at any time.
*OFFENSIVE GUARD: The most interesting storyline here is senior walk-on
Ryan Hockett. Hockett has apparently held off a challenge from freshman
Marcus McNeill at strong guard. Danny Lindsey is set as the starter at weak
guard with freshman Troy Reddick waiting in the wings.
*CENTER: Ben Nowland is a fifth-year senior, an All-SEC candidate and a
team leader. Should Nowland go down, Lindsey would move over from guard and become the No. 1 center.
*DEFENSIVE END: Reggie Torbor is one of the top defensive ends in the
SEC, but there's not another player available who has ever taken a snap at the position in a college game. Converted tight end Jay Ratliff has everything it takes except experience. Bret Eddins is strong and intelligent. Same with
converted tackle Dexter Murphy. Freshman Ben Grubbs is going to be a good
one, but you have to wonder if he's ready for what's ahead.
*DEFENSIVE TACKLE: DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson seem to be
healthy. If they are, they're among the SEC's best. Redshirt freshman Wayne
Dickens and true freshman Tommy Jackson have been impressive in the
preseason. Dante Booker is the strongest player on the team.
*LINEBACKER: It is the strongest position on the team. Starters Dontarrious Thomas, Mark Brown and Karlos Dansby are all probably on their
way to the NFL. Backups Lemarcus Rowell, Antarrious Williams and Travis
Williams have the same kind of talent. They just need experience. High
school All-American Mayo Sowell has difficulty finding a place to play.
*CORNERBACK: Roderick Hood and Carlos Rogers are set as the starters,
but for the first time in a long time, there will be ample depth. Rashaud
Walker has been a starter for most of his career. Former walk-on Lamel Ages
has been outstanding in preseason practice. Senior Horace Willis isn't far
behind. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik says all five will probably play.
*SAFETY: Moving former cornerbacks Travaris Robinson and Junior
Rosegreen to safeties was a master stroke. They made plays in the spring,
they've made plays in the preseason and they'll make plays when the season
starts. Backups Donnay Young and Roshard Gilyard are both former starters.
*PUNTER/KICKER: Damon Duval is among the nation's best at both spots.
If there's any question it is about the second half of last season, when he
went into something of a slump. If preseason practice is any indication,
there'll be no slump this season.