Tennessee fielded a good defense last fall but went 5-7 because the team averaged just 17.3 points per game. Auburn fielded a good defense last fall but went 5-7 because the team averaged just 17.3 points per game.
Tennessee ranked 107th nationally in pass efficiency and passing yards last season; Auburn ranked 106th in pass efficiency and 99th in passing yards last season.
Tennessee rotated quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens in 2008 but got very little production out of either. Auburn rotated quarterbacks Kodi Burns and Chris Todd in 2008 but got very little production out of either.
Tennessee rushers, with no help from the passing attack, averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. Auburn rushers, with no help from the passing attack, averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.
Tennessee place-kicker Daniel Lincoln made just 10 of 18 field-goal tries after having an excellent year in 2007. Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum made just 11 of 19 field-goal tries after having an excellent year in 2007.
Tennessee replaced Fulmer with an unproven head coach (Lane Kiffin) who assembled a high-profile staff that includes offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and ace recruiter Ed Orgeron. Auburn replaced Tuberville with an unproven head coach (Gene Chizik) who assembled a high-profile staff that includes offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, defensive coordinator Ted Roof and ace recruiter Trooper Taylor.
Given all of these similarities, it is no surprise that Auburn - like Tennessee - is a mystery team heading into 2009 because of an offense that still appears to be quite unsettled.
The Tigers, like the Vols, are shaky at QB heading into preseason camp. Todd, benched for the last five games of '08, has shoulder problems that caused him to miss spring practice. Burns is a poor fit for Malzahn's passing attack, having thrown 7 interceptions and just 2 touchdown passes last fall. Neil Caudle threw just five passes (completing 4) in mop-up roles last season but had a pretty good spring. Further muddling the picture is freshman Tyrik Rollison, a heralded dual-threat QB from Texas.
Auburn may not know who will be throwing the ball this season but it knows Ben Tate will be running it. He rushed for 664 yards last fall. Backing him will be electrifying freshman Ontario McCalebb, who ripped off a 70-yard run in the spring game.
The Tigers also will find some carries for versatile Mario Fannin, a 5-11, 226-pounder who was their version of Florida's Percy Harvin last fall - contributing as a running back, a slot back and a return specialist. Fannin reportedly will play more of an H-Back role in 2009.
Another guy who will have a lot of balls thrown his way is Montez Billings, who caught 24 passes for 277 yards in 2008.
Bottom line: Like Tennessee, Auburn has to be better on offense in 2009 than it was in 2008. How much better, though, is anyone's guess.