The Opponents: Auburn

Auburn wasn't supposed to do much in 2009 under first-year head coach Gene Chizik. A 38-35 OT win against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl and a final record of 8-5 were more than most predicted.

Chizik's first Tiger team slaughtered Mississippi State, won at Tennessee, and upset Ole Miss for its three Southeastern Conference wins. Auburn started 5-0 but lost five of its last seven regular season games.

Still at 7-5, the Tigers were invited to Tampa, where they capped off a better than expected start for the Chizik era. Now it's 2010 and fans in the football-crazed state of Alabama, even those who support Auburn, will be looking for bigger and better this time around.

Chizik's arrival wasn't necessarily a reason for a ticker-tape parade or even a toilet paper rolling of Toomer's Corner. Not after a 5-19 two-year stint as head coach of Iowa State football.

But there was some familiarity with the new coach and his new school. He'd actually coached there before, as the defensive coordinator for Tommy Tuberville in 2002-04, the final year a perfect 13-0 season. Still, those two seasons at Iowa State were downright ugly in the win-loss column.

But Auburn took a chance on Chizik, and year one is now in the books. There appears to be more preseason hope for the Tigers this time around. There is experience as they return 48 lettermen, 24 on each side of the ball.

Pete Fiutak of, affiliated with, takes a closer look at Ole Miss' opponent in Oxford on Oct. 30.

What to watch for on offense: The attempt to quicken up the pace. Almost all offense in today's day and age want to speed things up a bit, and Auburn is no exception as offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn would like to take the training wheels off his attack. With so much experience across the board and almost everyone with a year in the system, the goal is to get everyone to quicken their pace a bit, be crisper, and be more decisive.

Cameron Newton

However, that only works if the quarterback play is sharp, and that isn't going to be a given early considering Cameron Newton (the likely starter) will need a little while to figure out what he's doing.

What to watch for on defense: The safeties. The Tiger secondary has the potential to be fantastic if everyone is healthy, but that's a long shot. Aairon Savage (knee), Mike McNeil (broken leg), Zac Etheridge (neck), and Drew Cole (foot) are all banged up to various degrees and all trying the secure spots at safety. Not only do the Tigers need playmakers at safety, but they also need to be healthy to provide depth for a rotation. If the position is a problem, then Daren Bates, a starter in the secondary last year, will have to move from linebacker back to the defensive backfield and then the linebacking depth becomes extremely thin.

The team will be far better can consistently force interceptions. As long as the Tigers are ahead of the game in turnover margin, or even, they should be okay. Last year, they picked off 17 passes with 16 of them coming in the eight wins and just one (Arkansas) coming in a loss. Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and LSU hardly lit it up through the air, but none of the four threw any picks and everyone but Georgia lost one fumble. The margin for error in the SEC is always going to be relatively thin, and as long as the Tigers are making big plays in the secondary, the offense can afford to take a few chances.

The schedule: If the Tigers are sharp out of the gate, there's no reason to not start the season 7-0 before dealing with the meat of the SEC West schedule. That might be asking for a lot with Clemson, South Carolina, and Arkansas to deal with, bout those three games are at home. Going to Mississippi State and Kentucky aren't going to be layups, but any team hoping to win the West should be good enough to get through those in a survive-and-move-on sort of way. The LSU game is at home, but going on the road to face Ole Miss could be the make-or-break moment in the Auburn season coming off the showdown against the Tigers. On the plus side there's a week off before playing Alabama, but the game is on the road

Best offensive player: Junior WR Darvin Adams. Tackle Lee Ziemba could end up being the highest rated all-star on the offense, and running backs Onterio McCalebb and/or Michael Dyer are probably the most talented, but it's Adams who brings the explosion. The 6-3, 192-pounder broke out in the new offense averaging 16.6 yards per catch with a team-leading 60 grabs with ten scores. While he was decent throughout the year, highlighted by a three-score performance against West Virginia, he blew up late with 115 yards and three scores against Furman, four catches for 138 yards and a touchdown against Alabama, and 12 catches for 142 yards against Northwestern.

Craig Stevens

Best defensive player: Senior LB Josh Bynes and/or Craig Stevens. They appeared to wear down a bit with little depth to help the cause last season, but they came up big time and again finishing 1-2 in tackles (Bynes with 104 and Stevens with 95) as the consistent playmakers who cleaned everything up. They each have good size, nice range, and make every stop that they have a chance at, and considering linebacker depth will be a bit of a concern going into the season, they need to be rocks.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Cameron Newton. It seems like years since Auburn has had a settled quarterback situation, and this season isn't any different with four viable options all capable of making the attack go. But it's the 6-6, 247-pound Newton who has the talent and upside to make the offense special. The former Florida Gator left the program after an issue with a stolen laptop, but now he appears to be a changed man with the ability and the maturity to become the face of the program. With the arm and the mobility, the skills are all in place, and now he'll have to keep the mistakes to a minimum and be consistent.

The season will be a success if...the Tigers win nine games … and beat Alabama. The schedule couldn't work out better with just three road dates before November 26th, no Florida, LSU and Georgia coming to Auburn, and with some nice fillers in Arkansas State, ULM, and Chattanooga. There's no reason to not win eight of the first 11 games, which would allow for a split of some sort against Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia (which are all at home), and budgeting in one road loss at either Kentucky (who's better than you think) or Ole Miss (who's much better than you think). Even though the Alabama game is on the road, it's time to come up with a win again in the rivalry to make the year a true success.

Key game: Besides the Nov. 26th game at Alabama, for obvious reasons, it's the September 9th date at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are going to be looking to make an early home statement in the SEC race, and Auburn will be in trouble if it's not fully jelled. If the Tigers can come up with a win, there's a chance to go on a terrific run with three straight home games followed up by a winnable game at Kentucky. A loss would put the pressure on with Clemson coming up nine days later.

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