The Expectation

By Posted on: August 22nd, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 6 Comments »

Synchronize your watches to GMT – Gus Malzahn Time

There are many challenges for an incoming coach at a major university in the NCAA. There is the ever present distraction of being the center of media attention. The higher the profile school, the greater the media focus on his every move and utterance. Then there is the pressure of the hiring process and organizational meetings with primary and secondary staffs. There are recruiting goals, objectives and of course athletes to contact, interview and review. There are countless tasks concerning the ordering of existing facilities and procedures. There are alumni gatherings, speaking engagements, and even mundane day to day tasks like moving in to a new home, settling personal affairs and the every precious family time. Last but certainly not least, there are your new players, some of whom you might happen to know, either from crossing paths on recruiting trips or even having the opportunity like Gus Malzahn did, of coaching them in the past.

The time spent on these tasks for an incoming coach before the first practice of the spring can be immense, even with the advantage of having been on campus before. As a head coach, you’re in a different role than any other opportunity you’ve had before. The task list is infinitely longer, the schedule is now yours to establish rather than follow and everyone is looking for you to decide nearly everything. There is a wealth of things that a new coach must attend to in addition to getting his team ready for that first season, and no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it still requires an inordinate amount of time to accomplish.

Even when that first season begins, and many distractions fall away there are still growing pains to overcome as you establish not only your game plan, but your leadership philosophy and “the way” you and your staff will work going forward. The players and your subordinate coaches all have their own input and plans as well, and throughout that first year there are inevitable mis-communications and misunderstandings that will usually be addressed and resolved by the start of the next year.

By the second season the mettle of a team has been tested and a working routine is well established. The productive tempo of day to day tasks increase dramatically and the extra time now afforded the head coach can be spent adjusting and improving key areas of his team, coaching staff and program. The second year coach is allowed to fully establish his philosophy, fine tune his coaching style, and communicate quickly with his staff and players in the common language of shared experience.

Everything just seems to go smoother the second time around. How much smoother? Well, let’s take a look.

A Golden Eagle in its second year, showing the War Eagle tail feather coloration

In 2008, Gus Malzahn was in his second year as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa under his friend Todd Graham, now the head coach at Arizona State University. Back in 2007, the Tulsa Hurricanes had lit up scoreboards and set school records for offensive production, improving from 37th in the nation to 6th with a 41 point per game average.

gus@Tulsa

In 2008 they were 2nd in the nation and scored over 47 points per game. In all other respects, there was a notable improvement across all measurable aspects of the team’s performance.

In Gus Malzahn’s first year as Offensive Coordinator at Auburn in 2009, the Tigers had one of the best offenses in the SEC, averaging 33.3 points per game against some of the best defenses in the nation, and good enough for 17th in the nation.

Gus@AU

In 2010, Auburn scored over 41 points per game, 7th best in the nation and went undefeated to capture the BCS Championship. In fact, using my Cafe Malzahn measurements, we can actually measure the improvement in each of Gus’s previous 2nd year teams.

Using these two examples, the following average improvement from year 1 to year 2 under Gus Malzahn can  be seen.

AVGIMP

Drum roll please,…..

If you take these improvements (and even the slight degradation of Red Zone and Red Zone Touchdown output) into account, Auburn’s offensive improvement in 2014 can be approximated.

Gus@AUHC

 *Projected

My friends, that is the offensive output of an SEC Championship team in every single measure that I’ve been tracking for the last seven years. In fact, it EXCEEDS every one of the previous seven SEC championship teams in three of the five categories – Points per game, yards per play and 3rd down conversion rate.

Is this a verifiable prediction? Can you take this to the bank? Obviously not on only two examples. Nothing is certain in college football and I’m not so blind to ascribe any statistical certainty to the numbers I’ve collected, but I will say this: This team has the potential to blow the socks off the rest of the SEC and the nation this season. With a full year to improve over last year’s remarkable SEC championship run, veteran lines on both sides of the ball, superb receivers, outstanding running backs, the best tandem of quarterbacks in the nation (not to mention the best offensive mind in the game today), there is no determinable upper limit to what the Tigers might do in 2014.

For those who say Auburn won’t be as ‘lucky’ this year as they were last year, I’d say that is most probably true. Then again, if these number prove accurate they won’t need to be. 

“Hey babe,…”

Auburn Places 10 Tigers on Coaches Pre Season All-SEC Team

By Posted on: August 21st, 2014 in Football 1 Comment »
GRpUo.AuSt.70- Ledger Enquirer

                                                                                                                                    (photo:Robin Trimarchi,Ledger-Enquirer)
The Coaches pre season All-South Eastern Conference Team came out today and Auburn was well represented with 10 Tigers being selected.

Senior center Reese Dismukes and junior receiver Sammie Coates were named to the First Team. The two offensive stars were joined by Nick Marshall who continues to pick up preseason honors as he was named the All-SEC First-Team Quarterback.

Making the Second Team were Tight end C.J. Uzomah, Defensive Lineman Gabe Wright, Cornerback Jonathon Mincy and Guard Alex Kozan. In addition senior guard Chad Slade, Defensive Tackle Montravius Adams, and senior Star Safety, Robenson Therezie received Third Team honors.

College Football is one Week Away!

By Posted on: August 21st, 2014 in Football 13 Comments »
One week till football

Preparation for Arkansas begins.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! I think I speak for all of us, when I say that college football frenzy is building rapidly! Maybe it’s just a giddy product of having the SEC Network on the air, and having it on as background noise during most hours I’m home, but I have to say that I’m fired up. Likewise, I’m excited to hear that the coaches have already started Arkansas preparations, more than a week from the opener. Auburn fans are certainly hoping for a good showing against the Hogs.

     For much of this summer, I’ve previewed one of Auburn’s football opponents. This week should be dedicated to the Samford Bulldogs, who travel to Auburn on November 22nd. While I enjoy typing “Advantage, Auburn” as much as anyone, I just don’t see boring everyone with a dozen position capsules of that variety regarding this matchup. Auburn is an FBS championship contender, and they are playing an FCS school. This game should not be close, unless Auburn has suffered some horrible setbacks.

     Samford has been making slow but steady progress under former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan. Last season, Samford won a share of the Southern Conference Championship, finishing 8-4, before getting blasted by Jax State in the opening round of the FCS playoff, 55-14. The Bulldogs do have a lot of players back, and have added intriguing Arizona State transfer quarterback Michael Eubanks, who’s a mobile guy with a strong arm. The Bulldogs should have a chance in most games they play, except for the opener at TCU and the finale in Auburn.

     Auburn will likely try to jump on Samford with 3 or 4 early scores, then try to rest folks in preparation for a titanic, SEC-deciding Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Bama will be bad news, this year, mark it down. A lot of fuss is being made over the fact that Alabama will have a new starter at quarterback this season. Folks, that really hasn’t mattered, in the Saban era. Greg McElroy took Bama to an undefeated national championship in his first season as a starter, and A. J. McCarron brought home a crystal football in his first season as a starter. With Alabama’s schedule, I’ll be shocked if they don’t enter the Iron Bowl undefeated, and rolling.

A few tidbits on Auburn practice, after the jump.

      As the week finishes, I’d expect the Tigers to have a semblance of a depth chart in place. As was the case last season, Auburn will have positions that have depth, and will rotate players freely, and being a starter is merely a formality. I’d expect that the defensive line and receiver areas fit that bill, as does the running back spot. Some areas have had surprises the past week, though.

     On the defensive line, Auburn has lots of tackles. Seniors Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker and Ben Bradley anchor a tough unit, and all will play a lot. Throw in talented sophomore Montravius Adams, and this is a scary bunch. Wright and Adams have been practicing at defensive end, and it’s a strong bet that Wright will start at an end position against Arkansas. The intrigue on the line has been at the end spots. We know sophomore Elijah Daniel will play a prominent role. LaDarius Owen is back at practice after an infection, and he’s a proven commodity. The wildcard on the line is incoming end Davonte Lambert. Word is that he’s too fast and talented to keep out of the lineup.

     Auburn appears to be set at linebacker/star with Cassanova McKinzy in the middle, Kris Frost at will, and Justin Garrett at star. This is a solid package of juniors. What happens when one or more guys goes out of the game? Well, that’s still a question. Anthony Swain probably has the most experience at linebacker, but things look scary at the star position behind Garrett.

     Probably the most interesting development on the defensive side of the ball has been the emergence of safety Jonathan Ford. He’s surged ahead of projected starter Derrick Moncrief, which based on what I saw on A-Day is a pretty incredible feat. Moncrief has missed a little time with an illness, and Ford evidently shined during the absence. This fall, I’d expect both guys to play a lot.

     On special teams, coach Scott Fountain is still either trying to build a ton of depth at the return spots, or no one’s doing a good enough job, because Auburn is still repping a lot of players at every spot. I think Corey Grant will get the first shot at being the featured kick returner, but we still have no clue who’s going to actually field punts. And by some accounts, kicker Daniel Carlson is on the verge of snatching away the starting punting duties from a trio of promising guys I watch boom the ball on A-Day. Can a freshman both kick off, place-kick and punt effectively? Last guy to do that at Auburn was Damon Duval way back in 1999.

     Six months ago, I opined that in recent years, I’ve always worried most about Auburn’s offensive lead-blocking depth. And at that time, despite the graduation of Jay Prosch, Auburn had the most favorable situation in years at the tight end and H-back spots. Folks, that illusion is shattered, and there are serious issues if seniors C. J. Uzomah or Brandon Fulse miss any time. Uzomah and Fulse can play both spots well, and can back each other up. Problem is that now, the third guy into the mix is a freshman, at either spot. Now, freshman Jakell Mitchell is on the spot at H-back, and freshman Chris Laye would be the next option at tight end. Ouch. And what about next year?

     Last season, Auburn’s top-ranked rushing offense was basically powered inside by six guys: the offensive line plus H-back Jay Prosch. At this point, half of those guys are gone. Left tackle Greg Robinson was the top lineman drafted by the NFL this past spring, and Prosch is turning heads in Houston this fall. The star of the future was Gage Batten, but he’s out indefinitely with an injury. This week, walk-on Patrick Young was pushing for a prominent role, but he’s now also out for the year with a knee injury. Bottom line: with three folks gone, don’t expect Auburn to roll as easily on the ground as late last season.

Auburn Will be Tough to Beat in 2014 Despite Hardest Schedule in the Nation

By Posted on: August 20th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 8 Comments »
527e8d693cce9.image- Gus & Nick

                                                                                                               (photo:Albert Cesare, oanow.com)
Auburn’s magical 2013 football season is now part of college football history. The team that few predicted to have a winning season came within 13 seconds of winning it all. To say the Tigers snuck up on some teams would be putting it mildly.

No one had picked Auburn to finish in the top 25 yet the Tigers went 12-1 on their way to an SEC Championship and berth in the Big Game. From disrespect to being picked as a top five or six team in the 2014 preseason is a phenomenal turn around.

In fact some think the Tigers may be the best team in the SEC. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is one of them. The Herbester said yesterday at the end of last year he felt like, “Auburn (was) going to be the team to beat in the SEC.” Kirk said, “I think they’re going to be as good, if not better, than a year ago … (and) be tough for anybody to beat.”

However, to prove that point, the Tigers will have to run the table on one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Most prognosticators have Auburn’s strength of schedule rated as one of the top five toughest schedules in the country.

Phil Steele has rated the Tigers’ schedule as the fifth toughest in college football while Yard Barker and ESPN.com both say Auburn plays the number one hardest schedule.

Auburn plays seven Top 25 teams and opens against SEC West foe, Arkansas. In addition, the Tigers will have to play Georgia in Athens this year and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Throw in a road trip to Big 12 power Kansas State, play LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State and the schedule is dauting enough. But then Auburn also has to play the two best teams in the East – Georgia and South Carolina. It’s easy to see how tough an assignment Gus Malzahn and his staff have cut out for them.

Incidentally, while this team is facing that kind of schedule, the other team from across the state has not had their pre-season strength of schedule rated above 61. But hey, if you know anything about Auburn’s past, they have always had one of the toughest schedules even before conference expansion. That’s why Pat Dye used to refer to the Tigers’ last three games as “Amen Corner.”

Nothing’s ever been easy for the Orange and Blue. And it won’t be easy in 2014.

Sure it’s going to be a difficult gauntlet to run. But as Herbstreit said yesterday, “As long as Nick Marshall’s there, and Gus Malzahn’s calling plays with a chip on his shoulder, they’re going to be tough for anybody to beat.”

I got to say it’s a rare moment that I find myself agreeing with anyone at ESPN. But In this case, I’m with Kirk … my money is on the Tigers.

War Eagle!

Editor’s Note: Also of importance is the fact that Auburn is returning fourteen starters on offense including a veteran QB and a veteran offensive line. And even though Defensive End Carl Lawson will miss the first half of the season, the defense will have a deeper depth chart to augment the six returning starters.

Who Will be Auburn’s Breakout Running Back in 2014?

By Posted on: August 19th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 11 Comments »
522692362acf1.image- Cory Grant

                                                                                                                                  (photo:Albert Cesare,Opelika Auburn News)
The Auburn football season is just 11 days away and for the first time in eight summers there hasn’t been a quarterback race on The Plains. With a potential Heisman candidate and experienced quarterback on the roster, there is no mystery of who will be the Tigers’ field general. Senior signal caller, Nick Marshall will lead the team in defending their SEC Championship.

However, there is a question of who will replace Heisman finalist Tre Mason as the Tigers No.1 Running back? Mason who left early for the NFL, left behind a legacy as one of the greatest running backs to ever play at “Running Back U.”

He was the leading rusher on the No.1 rushing team in the nation and finished his last year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. The number one contender to fill his shoes is senior Cameron Artis-Payne.

He had  two 100 yard games and finished 2013 with 610 yards and six touchdowns. Most expect him to get the nod. Still, he has been pushed all fall camp by a bevy of talented  backs. Cameron feels good about claiming the top spot though, remarking at one time, “I’m trying to be the first 2,000-yard running back in the SEC.”

While you got to love that attitude, the fact is there are four other guys trying to win that spot and they have been turning heads in camp. Kamryn Pettway a 6′, 239 freshman out of Pratville High has been in the mix but according to Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee – Red shirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman Roc Thomas have been the young guys that have had, “great camps.”

At  5’11″ and 230lb., Barber has a legitimate shot at being number one. He has the build to run it through the tackles and he has the added benefit of having played scout team running back last year. That experience gives him a year of playing against college level talent. Running backs coach, Tim Horton believes Barber has the power and the moves to be a top college back.

Roc Thomas was Mr. Alabama Football out of Oxford High where he finished his high school career with 6,169 yards and 82 touchdowns. Players and coaches alike have been wowed by his exploits during fall camp.

Coach Lashlee has already said he will play this year. His only drawback may be his size. Yet at 5′,11″ and 193 pounds, he could take on the role of Cory Grant who was the Tigers outside home run threat last season. 

If he did that, what role would Grant have in the offense? Well Cory has battled all spring and summer to be the featured back. A job that many thought was out of the question his first two years because, although fast, he was a little on the small side.

However, many forget that Tre Mason was also considered a small and fast scat back early in his career. Then Tre bulked up and started proving what he could do between the tackles.

Like Mason before him, Grant headed into the offseason looking to prove he could be the every down back that was needed in the HUNH. “One of my main goals was proving that I can be a back that can run between the tackles,” Grant said.  Reports out of Auburn is the junior is now 207 lbs. and according to Lashlee is, “A thick, big strong back that can fly,” and is, “now very capable of running between the tackles.”

Last year he averaged almost ten yards per carry and rushed for 647 yards and six touchdowns. What could he do as a bigger, stronger back who hasn’t lost any speed? This writer believes he is the one guy on the roster most like Tre Mason. And like Mason he could be Auburn’s breakout Running back in 2014.

At any rate, in eight years as a college coach, Gus Malzahn has had nine players produce eleven 1,000 yard seasons. That fact along with a promised open passing attack in 2014 will mean one of the five backs will have a breakout year. Question is … who will it be?

Who do you expect to be Auburn's Breakout Running Back in 2014?

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News Flash: Bret Bielema is a Moron

By Posted on: August 18th, 2014 in Football 11 Comments »

Bret-Bielema-topless-2It’s understandable to have some envy and animosity toward another coach and program; especially when that coach started in the SEC the same year as you and managed to win a championship while you continue looking for your first conference win.

But encouraging your people to “knock the s**t” out of fans from another school takes things to a whole new level. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has spread his hate from Gus Malzahn to the entire Auburn fan base.

Trying desperately to connect with his fans after a disastrous inaugural season in Fayetteville, Bielema encouraged the Razorback faithful to put a hurtin on any Auburn fans trying to video Saturday’s practice.

“If you see someone videotaping, tell them that ain’t right,” Bielema said. “Especially if they’re wearing an Auburn shirt, knock the s**t out of them.”

Really?

I just can’t picture Malzahn or even Spurrier or Saban saying something like that to their fans. It just sounds small, especially considering his John Candy shaped body will show up in Auburn flanked by state troopers.

Not only has Bielema been a flop on the field, he’s got to be an embarrassment to the Arkansas fans and alumni. The last thing he needs is to add fuel to the Auburn rivalry. The opener in two weeks could get monumentally ugly in a hurry…

Now that the SEC Network is here, what is your take on the first few days? I’ll give it a passing grade so far, with interesting interviews with commissioner Mike Slive and legendary broadcaster Brent Musburger to open the network.

The on-air studio talent leaves a little to be desired. Count me as a big Tim Tebow fan, but he has a long ways to go as a broadcaster. Ditto for former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy. The Eddie Haskell look is wearing thin quick.

If there was ever a body built for radio it’s Paul Finebaum’s. Listening to him on the car radio is bad enough. Having to look at him for four hours is like having a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

If network officials are smart enough to get the talent corrected, the network has a chance to be a huge hit. Give credit to Slive for getting it on-air in more than 95 million homes. Personally, I can’t wait for Thursday night’s showing of Bo, Barkley and the Big Hurt. The documentary looks at the Auburn careers of Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley and Frank Thomas. Outside of now, this had to be the heyday of Auburn athletics. The show airs at 8 p.m. CT…

There were no surprises in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. Maybe Auburn falling to sixth was a mild surprise, but the good thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Under the stupid BCS system, where you started the season in the polls could seal your fate before the first snap – see 2004.

The new college football playoff has me more optimistic about the future of the game than at any time in my life. As kids, could we have dreamed of having meaningful bowl games, a champion decided on the field and our very own conference network?

These are clearly, the best of times. For those of you at home keeping score, kickoff is 12 days from now.

Bash the Bulldogs!

By Posted on: August 14th, 2014 in Football 10 Comments »
Georgia Preview

Bulldogs circle the wagons.

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 15th, the Tigers travel to Athens, Georgia to take on the Bulldogs in what should be a battle of top ten teams. This game has been a difficult one for the Tigers in recent years, as Auburn has only beaten Georgia twice in the last 8 contests.

     Georgia suffered a rash of injuries to skill players last year, which resulted in a disappointing 5-loss season. One would think that a more normal injury situation should be in the offing this year, but the injuries continue in this year’s preseason camp. Receiver Malcomb Mitchell is out after having knee surgery recently, and counterpart Reggie Davis was sporting a cast on his left hand. Add in some suspensions and tranfers, and Georgia will have a tough start to the season in 2014.

     Should the Bulldogs survive September still in contention, they have a favorable schedule. Georgia opens with Clemson on Labor Day weekend, then has a week off to prepare for a big road trip to South Carolina. The Bulldogs tune up on Troy the following week, before hosting Tennessee to close out September. Vanderbilt concludes the homestand in October, then Georgia travels to Missouri and Arkansas. Another off-week preceeds the annual Jacksonville clash against Florida. Georgia then travels to Kentucky to tune up, before hosting the Auburn Tigers. The Bulldogs conclude the season hosting Charleston Southern, followed by Georgia Tech. With open dates before their two biggest SEC East threats, Georgia has a great chance to win the division.

     Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU, followed by Mississippi State in Starkville. The Tigers have a bye week, then South Carolina at home before traveling to Oxford to play the Ole Miss Rebels. A home tilt against Texas A&M preceeds Auburn’s trip to Athens.

     Georgia is one of many SEC teams this fall that has to replace a big-name starting quarterback, but fifth year senior Hutson Mason does have experience and ability. Georgia has a stable of explosive running backs led by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Even with numerous wide receiver injuries, most SEC squads would love to have a starting tandem of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Where Georgia might struggle is blocking. The Bulldogs must replace three offensive line starters, and they were not exactly a powerhouse here last season. Also this week the local news outlets are reporting that starting fullback Merritt Hall is being medically disqualified from football due to concussion issues.

     I got a chance to watch a chunk of the Georgia spring game on CSS a few months ago, and one big takeaway was the the Bulldogs had a lot of trouble protecting the quarterback on both squads. While one can blame the offensive line issues, I think Georgia has one of the scarier defensive front seven groups in the SEC. The Bulldogs added FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to the staff during the offseason, and my guess is that the Bulldogs will finally have defensive play-calling to match the success the offense has had over the past few seasons.

     Where injuries and depth issues can really hurt a squad is on special teams, and that might have had an effect on the return game last season, where Georgia got almost nothing. The Bulldogs averaged just 2.9 yards per punt return, and only 18.6 on kick returns. The Bulldogs were decent on coverage, and return a strong pair of kicking legs in Marshall Morgan and Colin Barber.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. Georgia offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup next fall is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Elijah Daniels now the likely rush end starter. Carl Lawson is coming off spring knee surgery, and the latest word is that he might or might not play at all, in 2014. There is room for newcomers to make an impact at end, especially on passing downs. Georgia’s starting offensive line, from left to right will likely be senior Mark Beard, senior Kolton Houston, senior David Andrews at center, sophomore Greg Pike and juior John Theuse at right tackle. There are 57 starts sprinkled amongst this group, and the hope is that this line will gel soon. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn linebackers vs. Georgia backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. For purposes of playing a pro-I team like Georgia, one must consider the Star position a run-stopping one. Auburn has two of its best defenders at that spot, senior Robensen Therezie, backed up by junior Justin Garrett, who is said to be having an amazing fall camp. Georgia has had something of a MASH unit at running back in recent years, but they have been deep enough to withstand injuries, and appear to be loaded again this year. Juniors Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall would likely start for any team in the country, and sophomore Brendan Douglas made an impact last season. It’s a tall task for Auburn, but it should be noted that last season the Tigers held Gurley and co. to just 117 rushing yards. Advantage: Even.

Auburn corners vs. Georgia receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy hopefully locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. The Tigers will need to be better against the Georgia passing game than they were during a disastrous 4th quarter meltdown last season. Georgia will go with a dangerous pair of senior receivers who seem like they’ve been playing for 10 years, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. There’s depth and skill beyond those two, also. Advantage: Georgia.

Auburn safeties vs. Georgia secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year. Georgia likes to throw to the tight end and fullback, but loses huge target Arthur Lynch to the NFL. Likely replacements include sophomores Quayvon Hicks and Jarred Chapple, and juniors Jack Loonam and Jay Rome. Advantage: Auburn.

Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, and the job is up in the air going into the second week of fall camp. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, had a really solid A-Day game and was the expected starter, but by all accounts the job is still a wide-open competition. There is a possibility that redshirt freshman kicker Daniel Carlson might handle both punting and kicking. Georgia will go with junior Colin Barber, who sported a gaudy 44.1 yard average last season. Despite the long punts, 20 of Barber’s 29 punts were either killed inside the 20 or fair-caught. Georgia gave up just 4.3 yards per return, compared to Auburn’s 7.0. The Tigers are still trying to find a punt return man, also. The most experienced guy returning is senior Quan Bray. Georgia is also searching for a return man, after averaging just 2.9 yards per return in 2013. Advantage: Georgia.

Kickoffs: Auburn must replace veteran kicker Cody Parkey, and will do it with redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson. Georgia counters with junior Marshall Morgan, who tallied 17 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs a year ago. Auburn’s coverage was porous, giving up 25.8 yards per return, while Georgia gave up 21.4. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Sophomore J. J. Green led the Bulldogs last season with a 24.0 yard average. Advantage: Georgia.

Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. After struggling as a freshman kicker, Georgia junior Marshall Morgan was almost automatic last season, hitting 22 of 24 field goal attempts. Advantage: Georgia.

Auburn offensive line vs. Georgia defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, senior Chad Slade, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, sophomore Avery Young, and junior Patrick Miller at right tackle. Georgia counters with an athletic, quick line. Senior Mike Thornton anchors the middle, while juniors Sterling Bailey and James DeLoach hold down the end spots. When Georgia needs beef up front, they can call upon junior Chris Mayes and redshirt freshman John Atkins, both of whom tip the scales at over 320 pounts. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. Georgia linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. Georgia returns a veteran group that can attack from all angles. Listed as starters are sophomore Leonard Floyd, junior Jordan Jenkins, and seniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson. Advantage: Even.

Auburn receivers vs. Georgia corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Georgia senior Damian Swann is a veteran corner, and the latest depth chart has redshirt freshman Aaron Davis as the other starter. Georgia had a problem giving up big plays in the secondary last season, and might again this year. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Georgia safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. Georgia dismissed both starting safeties during the offseason, and has had to go to the bullpen there. Senior Corey Moore does have experience, and he’ll be joined by sophomore J. J. Green, who was primarily a return man last season and had only 2 tackles. Advantage: Auburn.

     Georgia has the skill up front to slow down Auburn’s rushing attack, and the Tigers last saw coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive coaching ability in the BCS Title game against Florida State. That said, departed coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense was similar, and Auburn gashed it last season for 43 points, 323 rushing yards, and 566 total yards. This should be a great battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

     Is any offensive coordinator more unappreciated than Georgia’s Mike Bobo? I listened to Georgia fans in numerous spots in Athens, and in the stands in 2011, where the Bulldogs trounced Auburn 45-7, and all I heard was grousing about the offense and Bobo’s play-calling. The way I see it, Georgia every year is among the SEC offensive leaders, and consistently scores points. Under Mark Richt, Georgia has scored over 400 points in 7 different seasons, including the last 4 in a row. To put that in perspective, Auburn has only scored 400 points or more 5 times in its entire history.

     Prediction: A difficult schedule finally trips the Tigers, who will be playing their 6th tough SEC squad in a row. Georgia wins this one, 38-27.