JP25 - #8 AUBURN

The recent story of Auburn football has gone something like this: play consistently great defense; squeeze just enough out of an anemic offense to stay in games; rely on solid special teams to win games; lose the defensive coordinator to Texas. That’s definitely not a bad plan because Auburn has been mighty successful the past few years, but Tommy Tuberville finally decided he didn’t want to lean as hard on the defense as he has and brought in new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to run the spread offense. This change is the first dramatic shift in philosophy at Auburn in quite some time and it might be just the shot of energy the program needs to compete for another national title.


Franklin’s offense at Troy averaged 452.8 yards per game (a full 117.5 yards per game more than Auburn in 2007) and utilized athleticism out of the quarterback spot as a weapon. The transition is made easier by the fact that he came on board prior to the Peach Bowl last season began installing the offense for that game.

It also helps to have all five starting offensive linemen back. One reason for the Tigers lack of offense in ’07 was the fact that three true freshmen started on the line. Tackles Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh, as well as guard Chaz Ramsey gained valuable experience last season competing in the best conference in America. They’ll anchor the unit this year.

Kodi Burns played extensively in the Peach Bowl last season and seems to have a leg up on the quarterback job thanks to his impressive running ability. However, junior college transfer Chris Todd, who started his career at Texas Tech, is a much better passer and was tutored by Franklin in high school. Right now it looks like both will see significant action this year, depending on whose skills apply best to specific game situations.

Running back has been a strength at Auburn for a while now, and this season should be no exception. Ben Tate fits the mold of recent successful backs here and he amassed 903 yards and 8 tds a year ago. Senior Brad Lester provides excellent depth. Sophomore Mario Fannin will be used as an all purpose threat in the new offense thanks to his athleticism and receiving skills.

Fannin might be counted on heavily in the passing game because wide receiver is a question mark. Rodgeriqus Smith (52 receptions for 705 yards, 5 tds) is back for his senior year, but nobody else has shown much promise yet. There will undoubtedly be more passes thrown this season so somebody needs to step up.

The Auburn defense was fantastic in 2007 when they allowed an SEC best 16.9 points per game. It will be up to new defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes – who comes over after spending time at the same position at Pitt for the last eight years – to keep up the production.

Despite some key losses up front, there’s no shortage of talent on maintain this unit’s standing as one of the most disruptive D-Lines around. Stump Thompson, Quentin Groves, and Pat Sims were fine players, but their departure only means it’s time for Sen’Derrick Marks and Antonio Coleman to step into the spotlight. JC transfer Raven Gray was highly sought after in recruiting so he’ll probably end up starting on the other end opposite Coleman, which gives the Tigers one of the better pass rush tandems in the SEC.

Tray Blackmon has the playmaking ability to become one of the best linebackers in the nation. He’s super-athletic, has a nose for the football, and will play the middle ‘backer spot. In Rhodes’ defense this position has traditionally been very productive, and Blackmon has as much raw talent as anybody he’s coached.

In the secondary the Tigers will start two juniors and two sophomores, but there is enough experience between the four that the pass defense will continue to be top notch. Strong safety Zac Etheridge was second on the team in tackles (65) as a freshman last season and free safety Mike McNeil managed to rack up 35 tackles while seeing action in every game as a true freshman. To make room for McNeil, Aairon Savage moves over to cornerback where he’ll team with Jerraud Powers (63 tackles, 4 interceptions) to form a solid coverage duo.

Mario Fannin – if you can. Tony Franklin will try to get this speedster the ball in a variety of ways. With limited depth at receiver, Fannin might end up playing a big role in the new offense.

Tray Blackmon. Blackmon has all the potential in the world. If he keeps his head on straight he’ll be fun to watch flying all over the football field this fall.

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