Expected to battle it out for the starting QB job are Kiehl Frazier, Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall, Jason Smith and Jonathan Wallace. Frazier was 1-4 last year and was then benched. Smith is similar to the Cougs' Isaac Dotson in that he "will get a shot" at the position but may line up elsewhere. Wallace started the last four games for Auburn. Johnson and Marshall arrive in the fall.
Frazier is the odds-on pick. New coach Gus Malzahn is bringing with him his spread-oriented, hurry-up, no-huddle O. And Frazier was originally recruited to play this style of offense.
Whatever the personnel, whatever the style, Auburn will have some major retooling to do. They went 3-9 this past season and were ranked No. 115 in total offense. On defense, they were ranked No. 79.
THE FRONT SEVEN on defense was the biggest weakness for the Auburn stop corps last year, and the secondary is expected to be the best unit in 2013. Auburn signed some junior college linebackers and defensive linemen which should help but no one other than the truest believers is expecting Auburn to be unusually stout on defense or offense this season.
The 2013 Cougars, who open at Auburn and then head to USC, aren't the first WSU team to start the season with daunting back-to-back road trips. Here are four others that opened with an especially formidable double-whammy. Interestingly, two of the four – the 1965 and 1977 clubs – came through the gauntlet undefeated.
Of note on the 1967 team is that after going to USC (which won the national title that year) and Oklahoma, the Cougs returned to Pullman for the home opener against fourth-ranked UCLA and eventual Heisman winner Gary Beban.
Texas Tech 16, WSU 7
WSU 14, Iowa 14
WSU 7, Iowa 0
WSU 14, Minnesota 13
USC 49, WSU 0
Oklahoma 21, WSU 0
WSU 19, Nebraska 10
WSU 23, Michigan State 21
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The Auburn D had their moments here and there in 2012, but the bottom line is that it was a mediocre unit that had trouble against the spread teams they faced. The culprits were a lack of size, strength and power that led to poor tackling.
New DC Ellis Johnson's base defense is a 4-2-5. It features a rover safety/linebacker and is contingent on having enough speed to contain the edges. It's goal is to slow down a spread offense without having to substitute much.
There are multiple ways to beat any defense out there. One of the ways to crack the 4-2-5 is to run effectively, not exactly Wazzu's forte last season. But if the Cougs can offer a credible running threat in the '13 season opener, it could be a long day for the Auburn D. When Auburn floods the box and brings their safeties up, and they will, then the possibility of open Cougar receivers with room to run increases exponentially.
The No. 1 task Auburn will be looking to instill in its defensive players this spring and on into fall camp -- is a return to the fundamentals and tackling.
WHAT THE COUGS will see from Auburn on offense is a team that wants to employ a lot of run-pass options. There will be a lot of motion. They will run a good amount of time and try to use that to set up play-action passes.
The biggest thing, though, is speed, speed, speed - they want to run as many plays as they can. But again, they're going to be teaching the offense this year -- they're not expected to run it as fast as they will next year or the year after that. It's not a "simple" offense, with lots of repetition and running of plays necessary in order to learn the nuances. In other words, it's not like the Air Raid, which Mike Leach installed in about three days.
All offenses are about execution, though, and if the Cougs stay home and wrap up, they can take care of business here. If not, Auburn will make things difficult. A defense can go 10 plays and look rock solid, but it only takes one play with a missed assignment or two for a quick, hurry-up offense to take off and find pay dirt.
As for the Auburn D, the Cougars can certainly move the ball against them if they execute up front. The question, just as it was last year, is if those yards can be cashed in for points.