Phillip Marshall: 10 AU Football Questions

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the upcoming season with 10 questions on the Tigers.

There are some things you'll never see in this space.

You'll never see me question coaches' play-calling. It's easy to do that when you first get to see if the play worked.

You'll never see me try to evaluate whether a high school kid is good enough to play in college or use the star ratings that recruiting analysts put on unproven teen-agers.

You'll never see me try to evaluate the technical expertise of coaches.

You'll never see me ridicule a young man, regardless where he plays or how talented he is, who pays such a tremendous price to go play on Saturdays.

Why? Because, while I'm a long-time observer of college athletics, I'm no expert, have never claimed to be, don't expect to ever be and question those who claim to be without the credentials to back it up.

With that disclaimer, here are the biggest questions I have about the 2007 Auburn football team. They might not be the same as the coaches' questions or the players' questions, and their questions are the ones that matter.

Here we go anyway.

1. Will the offensive line, with four new starters, be able to play at a championship level? Those who know better than I say the talent is there. I have no doubt they will get championship-level coaching from Hugh Nall. But we won't know until we see how they play together as a unit.

The play of senior Leon Hart will be a big key for the Auburn offense this season.

2. Is there enough maturity, firepower and depth to deal with a schedule that includes road games at LSU, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia, not to mention some very testy home games. Any team playing Auburn's schedule, from USC on down, would have to ask the same question.

3. How do you replace kicker John Vaughn, punter Kody Bliss and the best kickoff man I've ever seen in Matt Clark? Probably, you don't. You just hope you can put young guys out there that won't get you beat.

4. Will there be backup quarterback ready to play winning football should Brandon Cox be injured an unable to play? We won't really know unless it happens. Blake Field, Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger, along with true freshman Kodi Burns, will get opportunities to show they could do that.

5. Can the Tigers avoid falling into a trap against Kansas State or South Florida in the first two games of the season? Both are very dangerous. Both will come to Jordan-Hare Stadium believing they can win.

6. Will linebacker Tray Blackmon finally overcome the trouble that has dogged him and realize his immense potential? He could be the key to second-year coordinator Will Muschamp's defense.

7. Can Rod Smith prosper as the go-to wide receiver? Though he was once an uninvited walk-on, Auburn coaches believe he can.

8. Can defensive end Quentin Groves, already one of the nation's top pass rushers, also become a physical force against the run? If he can, he could be one of the best ever to play at Auburn.

9. Why does Cox get so little respect, even from many who support his team? Cox was terrific as a sophomore. He deserved a purple heart just for persevering last season and doing what it took to help his team win 11 games.

10. What true freshmen will make an impact? My guess would that safety Michael McNeil, kicker Wes Byrum, wide receiver Chris Slaughter, center Ryan Pugh and linebacker Bo Harris would have the best chances.

Until next time …

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