Newton's anointing as "The Man" coming out of spring practice may be based more on potential than production. After two years backing up Tim Tebow at Florida, he spent last fall leading Blinn (Texas) College to the junior college national title by completing 240 of 336 passes for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also ran for 655 yards and 16 more TDs.
Assuming Newton hangs onto the top job, he may be running a lot come fall. Ben Tate, the Tigers' 2009 rushing leader with 1,362 yards, was taken by the Houston Texans in Round 2 of the recent NFL Draft, leaving Auburn with a gaping hole at tailback. Counting sack yardage, the Tigers managed just 50 net yards on 37 rushing attempts in the Blue & White Game, a paltry average of 1.4 yards per carry.
Mario Fannon, a 5-11, 227-pound senior, moved from H-back to tailback during the spring and looms as the heir-apparent to Tate. He rushed three times for 20 yards in the Blue & White game. Flashy sophomore Onterio McCalebb (5-10, 165) also figures prominently at tailback, although he gained just 10 yards on six tries in the spring finale.
A spring-game record 63,217 fans left Jordan-Hare Stadium buzzing about wide receiver Quindarius Carr, who finished with four receptions for 152 yards. The 6-1, 181-pound speedster reeled in a 70-yard TD bomb from Caudle and a 61-yard toss from Newton en route to being named Offensive MVP.
Another long-range scoring threat is kicker Wes Byrum, who booted a 50-yard field goal and was tabbed Special Teams MVP of the game.
Although the defenses allowed just 50 net rushing yards, they surrendered 37 completions in 50 attempts for 488 passing yards. Those are ominous numbers, even for a meaningless spring game. In addition, the defenses did not force a turnover all day. One bright spot was end Antoine Carter, tabbed Defensive MVP after recording 2.5 sacks.
If coordinator Ted Roof can fix the pass defense, the Tigers could surpass last year's 8-5 record. Auburn returns a lot of good players from that squad and is the only SEC program to return its entire coaching staff intact.
In addition, the Tigers have plenty of experience (a program-record 26 seniors) and a veteran offensive line. Four guys who boast a combined 109 career starts will be manning spots in the blocking front this fall.
Assuming one of the four quarterbacks can manage offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's unique attack, Auburn should make a run at the SEC West championship this season.