After claiming a share of the SEC west for the fifth time in six years during the 2005 campaign, the Auburn Tigers, under head coach Tommy Tuberville, enter the 2006 season with hopes of delivering a performance matching that of the 13-0 2004 squad. Last season, Auburn went 9-3 (7-1 in the SEC), concluding the year with a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

During the off-season, the Tigers hired former LSU and Miami Dolphins defensive coach and Auburn alum Will Muschamp to the defensive staff. Muschamp played an integral part as defensive coordinator during LSU's 2003 national championship campaign, where his squad led the country in both scoring and total defense.


In 2006, Auburn will be returning five offensive starters, with running back Kenny Irons (5-11, 200, Sr.) leading the charge. Irons led the SEC with 107.8 rushing yards and 117.6 total yards per game last season, accumulating a team high 1,293 rushing yards for 13 touchdowns.


Joining Irons in the Auburn running attack will be Brad Lester (5-11, 184, So.) and Tre Smith (5-10, 197, Jr.), who tallied 339 yards and 285 yards, respectively, as Irons' understudies last year.


Mike McLaughin (6-1, 236, So.), is the likely candidate to replace the departed Jake Slaughter at full back in 2006, and is the least experienced of the Tiger backs, appearing in eight games last season on the special teams.


At receiver, the Tigers bring back Prechae Rodriguez (6-4, 200, Jr.), Lee Guess (5-10, 177, Sr.), Courtney Taylor (6-2, 202, Sr.), Rodgeriqus Smith (6-0, 181, So.) and Robert Dunn (6-0, 177, So.), each of whom earned letters in their roles as backups in 2005. Taylor is the most experienced of the returning wide-outs, with 278 yards and one touchdown last season, and was slated as a starter in the spring alongside Rodriguez and Dunn.


Brandon Cox (6-2, 201, Jr.) will be returning to the offense at quarterback after a sophomore season where he threw for 2,324 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions.


Three of last season's starters will be returning to the offensive line in the fall, with Joe Cope (6-0, 276, Sr.) at center, Ben Grubbs (6-3, 301, Sr.) at left guard and second-team all-SEC selection Tim Duckworth (6-3, 310, Jr.) at right guard.


Filling in at the tackles will likely be King Dunlap (6-8, 313, Jr.) and Leon Hart (6-5, 300, Jr.), both of whom earned letters for Auburn in 2005, with Hart picking up SEC offensive linemen of the week honors after his performance against Kentucky on Nov. 5.


Cole Bennett (6-5, 261, Sr.) looks to start at tight end for the Tigers. Bennett saw action in all 12 games in 2005, compiling 107 receiving yards and two touchdowns.


On the other side of the ball, Auburn will be returning one lineman and five starters to the defensive backfield, which allowed 199 passing yards per game and compiled eight interceptions last season.


Headlining the returnees is All-SEC line backer Will Herring (6-3, 220, Sr.), who led the team last year with 69 total tackles. Also returning at linebacker is Karibi Dede (6-0, 216, Sr.)). In 2005, Dede tallied 42 tackles, one interception and three fumble recoveries. Merrill Johnson (6-0, 199, So.) is the leader for the third line backer position after serving as a back up last year.


Also returning to the defensive backfield this season will be David Irons (6-1, 188, Sr.) and Jonathan Wilhite (5-11, 182, Jr.) at cornerback. Irons was a second team All-SEC selection and the team leader with 11 pass deflections last year, while Wilhite recorded one interception and was second in pass break-ups with seven.


At strong safety, Steve Gandy (6-1, 198, So.) returns after earning a starting role last season, but could end up surrendering the starting role in 2006 to Eric Brock (6-1, 213, Jr.).


Tristan Davis (5-10, 204, So.) is the likely candidate to fill the starting free safety role. Davis saw action in all 12 games last season, but was utilized as a running back more than a defensive back.


On the line, defensive end Marquies Gunn (6-4, 254, Sr.) returns as the lone starter, and will be joined by Josh Thompson (6-0, 302, Jr.) at nose guard, Chris Browder (6-4, 260, Sr.) at tackle and Quentin Groves (6-3, 250, Jr.) at the other defensive end. Groves compiled six sacks last season, while Gunn led the Tigers in quarterback hurries with 16.


The Auburn special teams will return place kicker John Vaughn (6-1, 197, Sr.), kickoff specialist Matt Clark (6-1, 194, Sr.) and Kody Bliss (5-11, 177, Sr.) at punter. Vaughn went 12-20 on field goal attempts and 50-50 on extra points last season.

Brad Lester is the likely kick returner this season, after running kicks back for 196 yards and one touchdown as the second returner last year.




All-Time Series: 21-18-1


Stadium: Jordan-Hare (87,451)


First Meeting: 1901, Auburn 28, LSU 0


Last Meeting: 2005, LSU 20, Auburn 17 OT


Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville, 58-25, 7 years at AU

          85-47 overall, 12 years


2005 in Review: 9-3, 7-1 SEC


Final '05 Ranking: 14, both AP and Coaches


Off. / Def. Systems: Pro / 4-3 Multiple


Returning Starters: 13; 5 offense, 6 defense, kicker, punter


Last Bowl Appearance: 2006 CapitalOne Bowl

                                       Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10


Last Conference Championship: 2004





Total Offense: 409.8 (1st - SEC / 37th - NCAA)


Rushing Offense: 194.1 (2nd - SEC / 25th - NCAA)


Passing Offense: 215.8 (7th - SEC / 70th - NCAA)


Scoring Offense: 32.2 (1st - SEC / 30th - NCAA)


Total Defense: 315.3 (6th - SEC / 19th - NCAA)


Rushing Defense: 116.2 (5th - SEC / 22nd - NCAA)


Passing Defense: 199.0 (7th - SEC / 32nd - NCAA)


Scoring Defense: 15.5 (3rd - SEC / 6th - NCAA)


Turnover Margin: -3 (8th - SEC / 74th - NCAA)





Rushing: Kenny Irons – 256 carries, 1293 yards, 13 TD


Passing: Brandon Cox – 306-177-8, 2324 yards, 15 TD


Receiving: Courtney Taylor – 22 catches, 278 yards, 1 TD


Tackles: Will Herring – 69 TT (34 S, 35 A)





Date                 Opponent                     '05 Result


S-2                  Washington State          ---


S-9                  at Mississippi State       W, 28-0


S-16                LSU                             L, 20-17 (ot)


S-23                Buffalo             ---


S-28                at South Carolina          W, 48-7


O-7                  Arkansas                      W, 34-17


O-14                Florida                         ---


O-21                Tulane                          ---


O-28                at Ole Miss                   W, 27-3


N-4                  Arkansas State             ---


N-11                Georgia                        W, 31-30


N-18                at Alabama                   W, 28-18


View from the Other Side:

After finishing in a tie for first place in the SEC West but not getting the opportunity to defend its conference title (LSU won the tiebreaker with an overtime win vs. the Tigers), Auburn will try to return to the SEC Championship Game with a team that features a significant amount of experience.


Although the Tigers officially list only five starters returning on offense and six on defense, there are actually 13 players on offense with starting experience and a dozen more on defense.


If Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff adequately replace three key receivers along with two starting defensive linemen plus two linebackers, the Tigers should be tough.


Key returnees include the SEC's top rusher, Kenny Irons, and his brother David, a potential first-round NFL pick at cornerback. Junior lefty Brandon Cox is expected to be one of the league's top QBs with a year of starting experience.


Defensively, the Tigers are quick and athletic, particularly in the secondary where new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will have a variety of options. The Tigers lost several key players, but have good talent on both sides of the ball and return three-year starters Kody Bliss (punter) and John Vaughn (field goals).


Star Potential: Sr. WR Courtney Taylor is back from an injury and is very talented.


Best Under the Radar Player: Senior DE Marquies Gunn is bigger, stronger and quicker this year at 6-4, 270, and is a proven performer.


Impact Freshman: WR Tim Hawthorne has the size, speed and talent to make an immediate contribution.


Impact (redshirt) Freshmen: LB Tray Blackmon is a big hitter and TE Tommy Trott has big-play potential.


- Mark Murphy,

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