SEC PREVIEWS: New systems in Auburn

As if winning five straight national titles wasn't enough to declare the Southeastern Conference's college football supremacy, the league managed to take it one step further last season when the BCS title game matchup between Alabama and LSU guaranteed a sixth straight national champion from the SEC before the championship game was even played.

So how does seven in a row sound? Well it will be hard to bet against the SEC continuing its dominance, especially with LSU returning 15 starters from last year's squad and BCS champ Alabama still loaded on the offensive side even with the loss of standout running back Trent Richardson.

Yet the big story in SEC Football 2012 is the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference, something that figures to make it even tougher to get through the league schedule unscathed. While neither Mizzou nor the Aggies are expected to contend for SEC divisional titles, they both bring solid programs to the league. Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country five years ago before losing to Oklahoma in the 2007 Big 12 title game, and A&M's Kyle Field is one of the most difficult venues in the country for visiting teams, something Florida, Arkansas and LSU will have to contend with this fall.

The Scout.com publishers believe that LSU and Georgia will repeat as division champions this year with LSU picked to win the SEC Championship. Previews of all 14 SEC teams are about to be featured on GamecockAnthem.com, and today we look at Mississippi State.



SEC WEST

Auburn (PREDICTED FINISH: 4TH IN WEST)


The 2012 Auburn football team returns most of its starters on offense, defense and on the special teams, but will have a different look with a pair of new coordinators joining coach Gene Chizik's staff.

Chizik brought in Brian VanGorder from the Atlanta Falcons to run the defense. Look for the Tigers to continue to base out of a 4-3 front, but there will be a lot of differences, too, most noticeably a change from a read-and-react style of play to a get up field and attack concept.

Offensively, the Tigers are making major changes. After coordinator Gus Malzahn checked out following the bowl game to take over the head coaching job at Arkansas State, Chizik brought in an up-and-coming coach to direct the offense. Scot Loeffler, who has coached quarterbacks at Michigan, the Detroit Lions, and Florida and who most recently was offensive coordinator at Temple, has installed a pro style, multiple attack to replace Malzahn's no-huddle, hurry-up, spread system.

The biggest question on offense is who will emerge as the No. 1 quarterback. Kiehl Frazier made a strong move to be that guy in spring drills. Bigger, stronger and throwing the ball much better than he did last fall as a true freshman, the 2010 USA Today Offensive Player of the Year is pushing the returning starter, Clint Moseley.

Moseley, a redshirt junior who was injured in Auburn's bowl victory over Virginia, recovered from that high ankle sprain, but was limited in spring drills by a sore throwing shoulder, allowing Frazier to get most of the snaps with the first offense. However, Loeffler and Chizik both say they are in no hurry to name their starter.

Chizik said he believes the Tigers are in good shape at running back despite losing All-SEC tailback Michael Dyer, who was suspended from the team and decided to transfer to Arkansas State. Onterio McCalebb returns with three seasons of prime-time experience carrying the football. He is already one of the top rushers in Auburn history as well as one of the fastest players in the SEC. Depth at the position comes from Tre Mason, a sophomore with good speed, along with a pair of transfers, redshirt sophomore Corey Grant from Alabama and redshirt freshman Mike Blakely from Florida. Both were on the scout team last fall. More help is expected from incoming U.S. Army All-American Jovon Robinson.

The Tigers return the middle of their offensive line with sophomore Reese Dismukes flanked at the guard spots by senior John Sullen and sophomore Chad Slade, who could also move outside to tackle. Redshirt freshman Christian Westerman is pushing for playing time at guard, too, along with sophomore Eric Mack. Both Mack and Westerman were high school All-Americans.

Other than who will be the quarterback, the biggest question on offense is how good will the tackles be? Both 2011 starters, Brandon Mosley and A.J. Greene, were seniors last year. Highly-regarded redshirt freshman Greg Robinson is the favorite to start at left tackle. Early high school graduate Patrick Miller finished spring drills No. 1 on the right side, but Slade has played there and could become the starter.

Emory Blake should be one of the best receivers in the SEC and the same is true of fellow senior Philip Lutzenkirchen, a talented tight end. The Tigers need more wideouts to step up like senior Travante Stallworth, sophomores Quan Bray and Trovon Reed or redshirt freshman Sammie Coates to take the pressure off of Blake.

The Tigers return their entire defensive front and have the chance to be two-deep in quality players at all four spots.

Junior ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford have all-star potential. Ford, who was injured last season, made a strong comeback in spring drills and will make two- year starter Nosa Eguae have to battle for playing time. The tackles, led by junior Jeffrey Whitaker, should be improved.

Senior Daren Bates returns at linebacker where he led the Tigers in tackles with 104 last season. Two others are back with starting linebacker experience–junior Jake Holland and senior Jonathan Evans. Kris Frost, a redshirt freshman, showed promise in the spring at a position where there is very little proven depth. Sophomore Justin Garrett is expected to push for playing time, too.

Three of the starters are back in the secondary and there is a lot of competition for playing time, particularly at cornerback where Chris Davis and T'Sharvan Bell will try to hold on to their starting spots. Bell missed the final three games with a knee injury last year, but looks like he will be ready to go for his senior season. Robenson Therezie is pushing for a starting spot, too. Two safeties to watch are sophomores Erique Florence and Jermaine Whitehead, a player who made the move from cornerback in the spring. Demetruce McNeal, a junior, is a returning starter.

Steven Clark was one of the top punters in the country last year and returns as does Cody Parkey, who was good on field goals and great on kickoffs last year.

Auburn's schedule is challenging again, but not as demanding as last year's that featured road games at Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia so with most of the starters back the Tigers have a good chance to improve on last year's eight-win season.

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EAST
Missouri (4)
Tennessee (5)
Vanderbilt (6)
Kentucky (7)

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Mississippi State (5)
Texas A&M (6)
Mississippi (7)

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