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.