Analyzing the Opponent: Auburn

When the Auburn Tigers take the field this fall, there won't be many familiar names to the casual college football fan. The program took multiple hits after last season's national championship, losing 16 total starters. What comes back is a young, talented team with some holes to fill in the fall. Head coach Gene Chizik has recruited well enough for talented players to see the field early.

WHAT THEY RETURN: There is plenty of talent at running back for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to get creative and make the offense work. Onterio McCalebb is as explosive as any player in the SEC, averaging 8.5 yards per carry last season. McCalebb rushed for 810 yards and nine touchdowns while also adding 86 yards and a touchdown receiving. Michael Dyer returns at running back after rushing for 1,093 yards and five touchdowns during his freshman season.

Emory Blake returns to the Tigers after ranking third on the team with 554 yards through the air last season. He also added five touchdowns.

H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen returns, and he might be more important than ever. He served as a check down option for Cam Newton last season, and with a new starting quarterback, that role will be even more significant without a dynamic playmaker under center.

The key returner on defense is senior cornerback Neiko Thorpe. He was third on the team with 64 tackles last season while leading the Tigers with nine pass breakups. Thorpe is the only returning player that ranked in the top seven in tackles for Auburn last season.

WHAT THEY LOSE: This is where the list gets lengthy. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton left early and was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Tigers also lost four offensive linemen, including Ryan Pugh and Lee Ziemba, who anchored the unit. Darvin Adams, Kodi Burns and Terrell Zachery are gone, leaving holes at the wide receiver position. Dyer and McCalebb returning means the Tigers will be fine at running back, but the senior presence of Mario Fannin ran for 395 yards and five touchdowns last season.

The list isn't much shorter on defense. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley left early and was an early first round selection in the NFL Draft. Linebacker Josh Bynes led the team with 73 tackles but graduated after the national championship season. Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton are both gone, making the hole at defensive tackle much deeper beyond just Fairley. Antoine Carter was second on the team behind Fairley with 4.5 sacks, and he is gone, too.

Safety Zac Etheridge was second on the team with 69 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He also had four pass breakups. Etheridge is yet another Auburn player who graduated after last season.

Kicker Wes Byrum is no longer on the team, opening another hole that must be filled.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: With the need for a pass rush on the defensive line, Corey Lemonier should get a shot to be a starting defensive end. He recorded two sacks and five tackles for a loss as a freshman in 2010, seeing time as a backup off the bench. He was also fifth on the team with six quarterback hurries. With the Tigers searching for productivity from the defensive line, don't be surprised if Lemonier becomes a force as a pass rusher.

POSITION THAT NEEDS TO STEP UP: This might be the easiest choice of any SEC school. It's the quarterback position for Auburn. Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner isn't easy, as Florida fans saw last season after Tim Tebow left, but Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley will have the challenge of doing just that. Freshman Kiehl Frazier could get some time on the field, as he brings athleticism to the quarterback position that the other two don't.

Trotter served as the backup last season, going 6-for-9 for 64 yards through the air during six games of mop-up duty. He is experienced in Malzahn's offense.

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