Aug 22, 2012

2012 SEC Previews: Auburn with College and Magnolia

We’re previewing the upcoming season with help from SBNation. Today, College and Magnolia discusses Auburn.

The Tigers will attempt to withstand another brutal SEC schedule in 2012, with key home games against conference title contenders LSU (Sept. 22), Arkansas (Oct. 6) and Georgia (Nov. 10). Auburn’s road schedule pits big-time matchups with Mississippi State and Alabama. History is on Auburn’s side, however, as they have won five straight in Starkville and are 7-1 all-time in Tuscaloosa.

2011 Record: 8-5

2011 Bowl: Peach Bowl, Win vs. Virginia, 43-24

2012 Bowl Projections:

Orlando Bowl History:

01-01-87 Florida Citrus Bowl, Win vs. Southern California, 16-7
01-01-01 Florida Citrus Bowl, Loss vs. Michigan, 31-28
01-01-03 Capital One Bowl, Win vs. Penn St., 13-9
01-02-06 Capital One Bowl, Loss vs. Wisconsin, 24-10

Q&A with Chris Fuhrmeister from College and Magnolia

Describe the 2011 season in two words.

Growing pains

Which coordinator change will be more noticeable to Tiger fans, Ted Roof to Brian VanGorder or Gus Malzahn to Scot Loeffler?

Without a doubt, the answer is Roof to VanGorder. Auburn’s offense struggled mightily in Gus Malzahn’s final season as offensive coordinator, but if the defense had been worth anything, fans on the Plains wouldn’t have cared. Auburn fans will always prefer a strong defense and mediocre offense to the opposite scenario. Even during the national title season of 2010, when the offense smashed school records, scored nearly 50 points per game and produced a Heisman Trophy winner, fans were complaining about the amount of points Roof’s defense allowed. Auburn folks want low-scoring, smashmouth football, and the fervent hope and prayer is that VanGoder will return the Tigers to their defensive glory days.

On paper, what looks like the toughest game this season?

I’d like to go with an out-of-the-box, less obvious answer, but if I picked any other game than the season finale at Alabama, I would be lying. Even when the Crimson Tide is having a down year, an Iron Bowl date in Tuscaloosa is a scary prospect. When that program is at the level currently established under head coach Nick Saban, it’s pure nightmare fuel.

By the final week of the regular season, Auburn’s offense should be playing well enough to move the ball on Alabama’s defense. The Tide has plenty of talent, but just like in 2010, the loss of so many starters from the previous season could lead to a few defensive lapses. Unfortunately for Auburn, Alabama’s biggest strength should be able to exploit the Tigers’ biggest weaknesses. Bama’s offensive line will be the best in the country and should be able to open up running lanes against Auburn’s interior defensive line and linebackers. If those two units haven’t risen to a higher level by season’s end, it could be a long afternoon in T-Town.

Which position group (offense or defense) needs to make serious progress in 2012 in order for this team to succeed?

The secondary needs to show improvement, but the linebacking corps will be the difference between a good or mediocre-to-bad Auburn defense. This was the weakest unit on the team last season, and it appears to be again in 2012. If Auburn’s linebackers can’t provide support for the defensive line against the run, get to the quarterback on blitzes and control the middle of the field on pass plays, the Tigers’ defensive backs are going to get sucked in to stop the run and short passes and give up some big plays over their heads. (For an example of this, find film of any Auburn game from 2011.)

Best case/worst case scenario for the postseason.

Despite what may have seemed like negative answers to the previous questions, I believe Auburn could surprise the outside world and be quite good this season. If the talent plays up to its potential and doesn’t make too many inexperienced mistakes, the Tigers could handle the three cupcakes, take care of business against Clemson, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, and go 2-2 against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. That would give Auburn a 10-2 record, probably a New Year’s Day bowl and huge expectations going into next season.

Of course, if Auburn’s talent doesn’t reach its potential and the inexperience leads to too many mistakes, we could be looking at a much different story. The Tigers could beat the three cupcakes, go 2-3 against Clemson, State, Ole Miss, Vandy and A&M, and come up winless against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Bama. That would leave Auburn at 5-7, without a bowl, and Gene Chizik would enter 2013 squarely on the hot seat.

I think Auburn will end the year in between those records, but the Tigers should be closer to the 10-2 mark.

One Question In The Other Direction

Since Capital One took over as sponsor of the bowl, which game has been your/the organizers’ favorite?

Answered by Director of Digital Media Matt Repchak: Capital One has been on board since 2001, so they are just shy of a few of the big games in our Big Ten/SEC matchup, including Alabama’s 1995 win over Ohio State and Michigan State’s field goal as time expired to beat Florida in 2000. My fondest memory is Florida/Michigan in 2008. It was Lloyd Carr’s last game after a difficult final year in Ann Arbor (they were 8-4 and still reeling from the season-opening loss to Appalachian State). Florida was 9-3 and Tim Tebow had just won the Heisman. Few people gave Michigan a shot, but they emptied the playbook and jumped to an early lead, sparking a shootout that had the whole place rocking. It had everything you want as a bowl employee: competitive game, future NFL stars, sellout crowd, big TV audience and a memorable moment with Carr getting carried off the field.

BUT, while UM’s 41-35 win might be a personal favorite, I can’t give an answer about best games without mentioning Iowa’s amazing Hail Mary to top LSU in 2005. That was a year prior to my arrival in Orlando, and it still gets mentioned fondly by Iowa fans. The emotional stakes might not have been as high, but the pure magic of that final play (and the back-and-forth scoring that set it up) makes it one of the best games in the history of ALL bowls, much less ours.

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