The Real Definition of Rich

By Posted on: July 7th, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
Lutz

Society has its own definition of rich. The visual images include big homes, foreign cars, swimming pools and vacation cottages. Last week, Phillip Lutzenkirchen gave us the real image of rich. Looking at those pictures of a full high school football stadium in Atlanta during his memorial service, you realized this young man was among the richest of all.

Thousands don’t show up for a service because a guy was a great football player. He was so much more. There are few who go through life never making an enemy. There are fewer who touch so many lives in such a short period of time. Phillip did all those things in 23 short years.

I’ll always have those memories of him on the football field, but the lasting one for me was a football stadium full of people gathered to pay their final respects. That’s what you call rich. Even in death, Phillip Lutzenkirchen continues to teach us all. We’ve been blessed to share in his life…

With the attention on football, new Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl continues to quietly put his program back on solid footing. A big piece of that is getting buy-in from past players and coaches.

Recently, Pearl was able to put together a reunion on campus of the old guard, including Charles Barkley, Sonny Smith, Cliff Ellis, Chuck Person and Chris Porter. It was a collection of greats that couldn’t be imagined a year ago.

Pearl says he can’t succeed without them and that includes former coach and current Coastal Carolina head man Cliff Ellis.

“When Bruce called me, I said, ‘Bruce, I’m not ready,’” Ellis told Charles Goldberg. “He said, ‘Your players think you’re ready, and it’s time for you to come back. Cliff, your group is making a statement for the things I’ve tried to do. I need you to help me to get this thing going.”

It was his first visit back to campus since being released more than 10 years ago. Getting Ellis back to campus is a statement itself on the determination of Pearl to build Auburn into a contender.

While Auburn basketball has had few sustained highlights, those in the room that evening show us that the program can win at a high level. Having Barkley and Person active in the program should make everyone feel better about the winter months.

Now back to football.

Track ‘Em Tigers Auburn Football Hall of Fame Ballot for 2014

By Posted on: July 4th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 7 Comments »
RONNIE

                                                                                                           Auburn All-American Ronnie Brown (photo:Todd Van Ernst)
In the last three days here at Track ‘Em Tigers, we have been taking nominations for our own Auburn Tigers Football Hall of Fame. It’s a challenging task to come up with a slate of names when one is looking at hundreds of great players from the past 121 years.

Therefore we turned once again to our readership for assistance. Our members came through, making over 80 nominations along with some excellent reasons for their selections. Today we have prepared a ballot for our readers to determine who will make up the class of 2014.

We announced on Tuesday that Coach Mike Donahue was nominated for the staff selection. His name is one of two remaining Tigers that are on the College Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame that have yet to be placed in TET’s Hall. The other is former Running back, Dr. Ed Dyas. Therefore we are making both automatic selections for this year’s class.

Since all of Auburn’s 12 College Football Hall Fame members are now included, we plan to have two classifications in the future. One representing players from the last 25 – 30 years and one representing “old school” Tigers.

To get our other seven selections we have prepared a ballot/poll based on the names provided by TET members from this week’s nominations. However, we have two deviations from our announced plans.

The player that received the most nominations has not been out of school long enough to be eligible. Nonetheless support for his inclusion has been overwhelming. Therefore we’ve made an exception and added Phillip Lutzenkirchen’s name to  the ballot.

Also in the comments on Tuesday’s article, TET member WarEagle3020 made a suggestion to include a special induction for Auburn radio announcer, Jim Fyffe. Thirty-twenty had this to say about Fyffe:

“Jim Fyffe: voice of the Auburn Tigers. His voice on the radio solidified my love for Auburn at an early age. Many including myself, considered him an important part of the Auburn Tigers football team. His contributions to the program are legendary.” 

We certainly agree with that endorsement and therefore Jim Fyffe will be included in this year’s class as a special staff placement.

There are 11 names on the list and the poll will close Tuesday, July ninth. The seven names receiving the highest number of votes will be included in this year’s class of the Track ‘Em Tigers Football Hall of Fame. So vote for the seven that you would like to see go into this year’s HOF class. Next week, we will publish a tribute article to the list of winners.

Since the comments for Tuesday’s article have been closed, please feel free to discuss your ballot here on this post.

We thank you and again wish all a Happy 4th of July.

War Eagle! 

Voting Closed – See bios of 2014 class at Tribute article.

Ballot for 2014 class of Track 'em Tigers Auburn Football Hall of Fame Ballot (Choose 7 names).

  • Dameyeune Craig (QB) (83%, 871 Votes)
  • Ronnie Brown (RB) (81%, 857 Votes)
  • Phillip Lutzenkirchen (TE) (79%, 832 Votes)
  • Frank Sanders (WR) (76%, 800 Votes)
  • Karlos Dansby (LB) (74%, 784 Votes)
  • David Rocker (DT) (58%, 616 Votes)
  • David Langner (DB) (58%, 614 Votes)
  • Marcus McNeil (OL) (57%, 599 Votes)
  • Tommy Agee (FB) (53%, 560 Votes)
  • Aubdray Bruce (DE) (49%, 513 Votes)
  • Lewis Colbert (ST) (16%, 169 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,055

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A Bye Week for the Tigers in October.

By Posted on: July 3rd, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
Bye week result

Auburn made good use of the off week last season!
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     After Auburn has played their first six opponents this year, the Tigers get a mid-October bye week, taking the 18th off. After playing LSU and Mississippi State back to back, the Tigers may need a rest, before a 4-week stretch against South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and at Georgia. This week’s subject is whether bye weeks are of any benefit to Auburn. For purposes of this piece, I’m only going to examine the period of time covered since the SEC split into divisions. In other words, the last 22 years.

     In 1992, the Tide and Tigers were forced by their TV overlords to play on Thanksgiving Day. Thereafter, both schools set their schedules up for an open date after the Iron Bowl, taking Thanksgiving week off. Alabama and Auburn were thus left with only one bye week during the season. Since the college football world went to the 12 game regular season permanently in 2006, that’s now the case for many teams. About 7 years ago, the SEC mandated that all SEC teams must have a game scheduled the last week of the season. Looking back on the past 22 years, We’ll examine each Auburn bye week, and then what transpired in the next game.

     In 1992, Auburn effectively had two bye weeks. The first came after a 24-24 tie against Arkansas. Auburn had a week off before hosting Georgia. The Tigers had opened the season 4-1, but had stumbled through October to a 5-3-1 mark. Auburn played Georgia tough, falling 10-14, with the ball on the UGA one yard line with no timeouts. That UGA team ultimately won 10 games. After the UGA game, Auburn had ten days off before the Thanksgiving Iron Bowl. Auburn battled eventual national champ Alabama to a scoreless deadlock at the half, before a pick six put the game out of reach. Auburn wilted late, losing 0-17. Verdict: The bye weeks helped Auburn regroup and play top ten teams tough.

     The 1993 team ripped out to a 7-0 record before an October bye week. The bye came after a hard-fought 38-35 win over Florida. The rested Tigers fought a battle in the snow in Arkansas, rolling over the Razorbacks in the 4th quarter for a 31-21 win. Verdict: Auburn was the fresher team in Fayetteville due to the bye.

     A nearly identical scenario occurred in 1994. Auburn beat Florida in Gainesville to go 7-0, then had a bye week. At home against Arkansas, the Tigers looked positively frazzled in the first half, trailing 3-7 at the break. The Razorbacks collapsed in the 4th quarter, giving up 3 Stephen Davis TD runs late, as Auburn won 31-14. Verdict: Maybe Auburn had a little more gas in the tank at the end due to the bye, but they sure didn’t look sharp for 3 quarters. Result was inconclusive.

     Things fell a little differently in 1995. The Tigers had just hit a serious pothole in Baton Rouge before the bye week, losing 6-12 to LSU. After the September bye week, Auburn took on the “much improved” Bill Curry UK Wildcats, and tore out to a 35-7 halftime lead, en route to a 42-21 win. Verdict: The bye week was invaluable teaching time for the offensive line, which had been manhandled by LSU.

     In 1996, the bye week again fell after LSU. At the end of the barn-burner game, Auburn stood at 3-1. The D had largely shut down Auburn’s first 4 opponents, with shutouts against UAB and Fresno, and even in the 15-19 loss to LSU, offensive turnovers had led to most of LSU’s points. After the bye week, Auburn was diced up pretty handily by the USC Gamecocks, and only managed 228 total offensive yards in the game. Somehow the Tigers came from behind to win 28-24, but it was not a pretty game. Verdict: Auburn regressed during the off-week.

     Auburn played 9 straight games till the off week in 1997. In week 9, the Tigers appeared completely out of gas in a 0-20 loss at home to Mississippi State. After the bye week, Auburn roared into Athens, Georgia, and put up a dominating 45-34 win over the Bulldogs, en route to the first Tiger SEC Title Game appearance. Verdict: The bye week helped a thin Tiger team get their legs back under them.

     There was much to forget about the 1998 season. Auburn’s bye week came early again, after a 19-31 loss to LSU. After the bye, Auburn hosted defending SEC Champ Tennessee. Tigers roared down the field with an energy seldom seen that season, but fumbled the ball for a 90 yard UT score the other way. Auburn lost to the eventual national champion 9-17. Verdict: The bye week helped, as the defense looked much improved against UT and teams beyond.

     In 1999, Auburn was back to having a bye week after Florida. Auburn had started the season impressively enough, but had dropped 4 straight games with starting quarterback Ben Leard on the sideline with a separated shoulder. After the bye week, Leard returned against Arkansas. It didn’t matter. If anything, the Tigers looked worse after the rest. Auburn got drubbed by Arkansas 10-34, and Leard was out again with a concussion. Verdict: Bye week was no help whatsoever.

     Auburn again went 9 straight weeks till the bye in 2000. Tigers looked out of gas late against Arkansas in game 9, but hung on for a 21-19 win to run their record to 7-2. After the bye, Auburn hosted Georgia. Georgia looked like the better team, but Auburn had a reserve of energy, and would not stay down. The game went to overtime, where the Tigers and Rudi Johnson bashed down for a winning Leard sneak, 29-26. Verdict: The bye week rested the Tigers enough to knock off UGA and Bama and head back to Atlanta for another SEC Title game.

     The 2001 season had two bye weeks, one scheduled, and one caused by the 9-11 terrorist tragedy. Auburn had a week off after 9-11, when they would have played LSU. With an extra week, Auburn prepared for a trip to Syracuse. The bye was of no help. The Tigers looked pretty lost on both sides of the ball, and lost 14-31 to the Orangemen. The second bye week was after the worst Auburn loss to Arkansas in history. The Tigers had turned a tight game in Fayetteville into a 17-42 blowout loss with 4th quarter turnovers. After the bye, Auburn rode freshman Carnell Williams for 41 carries, and upset Georgia in Athens 24-17. Verdict: Bye weeks were a 50/50 split in 2001.

     The 12 game regular season made its first appearance in 2002. Auburn had a bye week after a three overtime squeaker against Syracuse, 37-34. After the bye, Auburn was steamrolled by Arkansas 17-38. The Razorbacks racked up 426 yards rushing in that one. Verdict: After the bye, Auburn fell apart on both sides of the ball.

     Auburn got a bye week in 2003 after just two weeks. It was a disastrous two week span, with a 0-23 loss to USC, and a 3-17 loss to Georgia Tech. Tommy Tuberville called in consultants to fix his offense during the off week. Auburn came off the bye with a 45-7 blowout of Vandy, and won 5 straight games. Verdict: The bye week could not have come at a better time.

     Auburn went 9 weeks till the bye in 2004. The 9th game was a 35-14 win over Ole Miss, and the Tigers looked tired. After the bye, Auburn hosted two-time defending east champion Georgia. Auburn was the tougher team, gutting out a 24-6 win that vaulted Auburn close to second place in the BCS title race. Verdict: The off week helped the Tigers.

     In 2005, the bye week occurred in week six. Auburn had lost the opener to Georgia Tech, but had reeled off 4 straight wins, the last being a 48-7 beatdown of Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. After the bye, Auburn traveled to Fayetteville. The Tigers messed around for a half, then pummelled the Razorbacks 34-17. Verdict: Uncertain. Auburn did look fresher in the 2nd half, but the off time seemed to have stalled the offense in the first half.

     The 12 game regular season became a permanent fixture in 2006. In 2006, Auburn played straight through to the Iron Bowl with no break.

     In 2007, the SEC had ruled that every team must play on the weekend before the SEC title game, thus both Alabama and Auburn saw their pre-championship off week ended. Auburn took a bye week before the Iron Bowl, then outlasted the Tide 17-10, winning their sixth Iron Bowl in a row! Verdict: The Tigers were able to recover from a 20-45 thrashing in Athens to down Nick Saban’s first Bama squad.

     Auburn’s bye week in 2008 again preceded the Iron Bowl. The Tigers were coming off a frustrating 13-17 loss to an eventual 10 win Georgia team. The Tigers were 5-6, and needed a win over Bama to go bowling. The bye week may have helped Auburn keep it close for a half, trailing only 0-10. However, the Tigers collapsed in the 2nd half, suffering a 0-36 beating. It was the worst loss to Bama since 1962. Verdict: The bye week had no real benefit.

     The 2009 season again saw the bye week right before the Iron Bowl, after playing 11 straight weeks. Auburn had lost in Athens 24-31, when Mario Fannin could not hold onto a pass at the goal line. After the bye week, Auburn came out and hit top-ranked Bama in the mouth, going up 14-0 and playing toe-to-toe down to the wire, before falling 21-26. Verdict: Auburn improved drastically during the break.

     In 2010 the break was again right before the Iron Bowl. The Tigers had run to a surprising 11-0 mark with a 49-31 win over Georgia. The Tigers had already clinched the SEC Western Division title heading into the bye. In the first half of the Iron Bowl, it was like the Tigers had forgotten everything they knew, falling down the toilet to a 0-24 deficit. The Champs rallied, though, and forged the greatest comeback in Auburn history. Verdict: Bye week seemed to have taken the edge off the Tiger machine.

     Auburn’s break in 2011 was after beating Ole Miss, 41-23. The Tigers had an SEC win with Clint Moseley in his second start. After the break, Auburn traveled to Athens to play Georgia. Auburn put one scoring drive together on trick plays, but had nothing else on either side of the ball. Auburn suffered a crushing 7-45 blowout loss. Verdict: Bye week was no help.

     In 2012, Auburn got a break in week five. The Tigers opened with losses to Clemson and Mississippi State, beat Louisiana-Monroe in overtime, then lost a 10-12 thriller to LSU. Despite the loss to the Bengal Tigers, folks were upbeat that this team might finally be getting it together. After the bye week, Auburn wilted in the 4th quarter in a 7-24 loss to Arkansas, a pattern that would continue, resulting in the worst season in over 60 years at Auburn. Verdict: The bye week seemed to gut Auburn’s enthusiasm for the rest of the year.

     The 2013 break came again after the LSU game, a 21-35 loss in Baton Rouge. After the break, Auburn jumped on 24th-ranked Ole Miss, breaking out to a 20-3 second quarter lead. Auburn held on for a 30-22 win over the Rebels, in route to an SEC Championship season. Verdict: The bye week helped Auburn build on a good second half against LSU.

     Tallying up the results of my opinion/verdicts above: we’ve had 23 bye weeks prior to this one. In those, we had 13 beneficial results, 2 uncertain results and 8 times that the team seemed to have regressed during the break. Result of my completely unscientific survey? Bye weeks help Auburn about 60 percent of the time. Let’s hope we’re on the right side of that equation in 2014!

     This coming season actually features two bye weeks, one before the trip to Kansas State, and one before the South Carolina game. The Gamecocks are the favorite to win the SEC East, this season, I’d think. Even in the second half of the season, Auburn gets to play Samford the week before the Iron Bowl. I think the breaks are pretty well spaced, for navigating a difficult schedule.

Phillip Lutzenkirchen – A Life of Impact

By Posted on: June 30th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 15 Comments »
Philip+Lutzenkirchen+South+Carolina+v+Auburn+8ucxP3ABE1Ul

                                                                                                                                 (photo:al.com)
Like all Auburn people it was a shock to hear of Phillip Lutzenkirchen’s passing. It’s hard to put into words the emotion that swept over me when I received the news the former Auburn great was gone. I suppose Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee expressed how most of us felt when he tweeted, “Crushed and without words.”

We all know death is no respecter of persons. Yet when I got the news that Lutz had died in an auto accident, it was like someone had kicked me in the stomach.

Only two other times have I had similar emotions when hearing of the passing of an Auburn Family member. The first was in 1980 when Shug Jordan succumbed to a battle with leukemia. The second was in 2003 when I heard over the radio that legendary Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe had suddenly passed away.

But as much as those hurt – this was different. This was not the way it’s suppose to be. This was a young man barely out of college. When a life of promise is lost at such a young age, it’s always harder to fathom.

There will be many tributes written for Phillip this week. I suspect that most will talk of his gridiron glory. Stories will be told and retold about his fantastic almost unbelievable exploits on the football field. However, his legacy goes further than the touchdowns he scored or the records he holds as one of Auburn’s all-time great tight ends.

He felt blessed to be an Auburn man and he had a way about him that impacted not only the fans but his teammates and his friends and family. They all attest to a compassion that was always interested in helping those around him. Phillip led by example on and off the field.

There have been many testimonies from teammates and coaches to that fact but perhaps Auburn AD Jay Jacobs may have given the most poignant statement when he said Lutz, “Had a strong faith, a big heart, and a burning desire to help others. Phillip was a bright light this world desperately needed and his death leaves a void that can’t possibly be filled.”

He only lived 23 years yet oh what a impact he made in that brief time. He once said, “A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.” By that measure, Phillip Lutzenkirchen’s life was really important.

He leaves an example to all that come behind him of faith, of service, of integrity, and of doing things the right way.

The fans have lost one of their all-time favorite Tigers, Auburn has lost a great ambassador, but more importantly his family has lost a son and a brother.

Our hearts and our prayers go out to them today.

Celebrating July 4th Week and …Track ‘em Tigers Auburn Football Hall of Fame

By Posted on: June 30th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 25 Comments »
hi-res-51553967_crop_exact - Carnell

                                                                                    Cadillac Williams (photo:Chris Graythen/getty images)
With the possible exception of Christmas and New Years, there’s not a bigger American holiday than the fourth of July. The celebration of our nation’s independence is a time honored tradition. It’s a time for parades, fireworks, barbecues, and vacations. And traditionally it’s a time for the staff here at Track ‘Em Tigers to take our annual weeks vacation.

july-4-fireworksThe 4th of July also signals an important time in the world of college football. There isn’t much football news in the middle of the summer. However, after this week that changes, especially with the start of SEC Media Days.

We appreciate all of you that make TET a part of your daily lives and wish you a happy and restful 4th of July. We will be back with our regular postings on July 7th.

In the interim, we have something we would like for you, our readers to help us with.

For the last three years Track’em Tigers has taken nominations for our own Auburn Tigers Football Hall of Fame, which now includes seventeen former Auburn  players and coaches. You can find a list of those names at the end of this article.

The rules for the selection process are:

(1) Nominate only one person from the following positions: QB, RB, FB,WR, TE, OL, DL, LB, DB, ST, and Coach. (2) To be eligible players and or inactive coaches should have been out of college for four years. Eight names, seven chosen by our readers, will go into the 2014 class and may come from any period in Auburn History. (3) Although it would be good for you to have seen the nominee play or coach (at least on television, we recognize that in some cases that would not be possible).

This year the staff will nominate for our selection, legendary Auburn Coach “Iron Mike” Donahue. But Track ‘Em Tigers is about you the fan. So we want to know what you think.

The next two to three days we will be taking nominations to fill up the rest of our ballot of 10 nominees from which seven new names will be selected.

Please tell us in the comment section why you think a player is deserving of the nomination. If your player has already been nominated, you can still nominate him again  - an action that will simply add to the nominees weight to be placed on the final ballot.

Toward the end of this week, we will publish a list of the top vote getters along with a ballot/poll to decide the seven players that will make up the 2014 class of TET’s Auburn Football Hall of Fame.

On behalf of the guys here at Track ‘Em Tigers, thank you in advance for your help. War Eagle and we wish you all a safe and

Happy 4th of July!


Editors note: The names of the seventeen present members of TET’s Hall of Fame are listed after the jump
The 2012 TET/Auburn Football Hall of Fame inductees where: Walter Gilbert, Jimmy Hitchcock, Tucker Frederickson, Pat Sullivan, Tracy Rocker, Bo Jackson, Shug Jordan, and John Heisman. The 2013 class included: George Petrie, Tommy Tuberville, Pat Dye, Terry Beasley, Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams, Carlos Rogers, Takeo Spikes, Jason Campbell, and Al Del Greco.

We Have Lost Lutzie … “Crushed and without words.”

By Posted on: June 29th, 2014 in Football, News 13 Comments »
ncf_u_PhilipLutzenkirchen_cmg_600

                                                                                                                                          (photo:al.com)
Reports have surfaced from Georgia that Phillip Lutzenkirchen was killed in car crash in Troup County, Georgia. He was signed by the Rams and released in August 2013. I will always remember him as a fine young man who did his job and led others to do theirs. The winning Iron Bowl Catch is legendary. He will be sorely missed by Auburn fans.

Auburn AD Jay Jacobs said in a release:
“Philip’s death is a devastating tragedy for his family, the Auburn family and his countless friends. Today is also a profoundly sad day for the Auburn Athletics family, who loved and respected Philip not only as a great player but more importantly as a friend and the epitome of an Auburn man.”

Both Gus Malzahn and Gene Chizik expressed deep respect for Phllip and sadness for his passing. However, perhaps Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee best expressed the feeling of the Auburn Family when he said:
  “The Auburn Family is broken today with the loss of a great Auburn man and friend Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Crushed and without words.”

Condolences to his family and rest in peace Lutzie. 

Here is a link to a story from the NBC affiliate in Huntsville, Al.

Nostalgia Friday: 1972 Sugar Bowl

By Posted on: June 27th, 2014 in Football 1 Comment »

Our Nostalgia Friday pieces typically highlight Auburn victories from years past. Today we take a look at a loss. The footage here from the 1972 Sugar Bowl between Auburn and Oklahoma is just too good to pass up regardless of the outcome.

The 1971 season will be remembered as the Heisman Trophy winning year of Pat Sullivan. He also had a pretty good receiver by the name of Terry Beasley – you may have heard of him. Auburn started the year by winning its first nine games and putting itself into national championship contention.

It then laid an egg against Alabama, losing in blowout fashion 31-7. Despite the loss, Auburn was invited to face Oklahoma in New Orleans at old Tulane Stadium. The outcome wasn’t much better than the Iron Bowl.

Led by Greg Pruitt, the Sooners ran all over Auburn and Sullivan-to-Beasley never got going that afternoon, with the Tigers falling 40-22. Auburn would finish the year 9-2 overall and 5-1 in the SEC. The Associated Press voters put Auburn at 12th in its final poll while UPI (the other major poll at the time) had Auburn fifth.

There are two parts to this video. The first one is embedded above. The second one can be found here. Despite the loss, this is some of the coolest Auburn footage I’ve seen in years.

Enjoy.

A Showdown in Starkville!

By Posted on: June 26th, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
MSU Preview

Auburn’s last visit wasn’t so great.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On October 11th, Auburn continues its SEC schedule with a tough road trip to play Mississippi State in Starkville. I’ve seen some projections that both teams will be undefeated coming into this game, but I’m not so sure I’m buying that. The Bulldogs play LSU in Baton Rouge before playing Auburn, and under head coach Dan Mullen, they haven’t beaten a Top-25 opponent since taking out Florida in 2010. Mullen’s record against Top-25 opponents is just 2-22.

     The Bulldogs open with home cupcakes Southern Mississippi and UAB, before traveling to Mobile to play South Alabama. Then, State is put to the test when they visit LSU in Baton Rouge on September 20th. A week to recuperate follows, then the Bulldogs host Texas A&M. Some folks think that without Johnny Manziel, the Aggies will be down. I’d caution such folk to look at Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin’s record. He’s lost good quarterbacks before, and keeps right on cranking out big numbers on offense. After Texas A&M, the Bulldogs host Auburn. The Tigers will have faced Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU. The concern for Auburn is the road trip to Starkville, right after a physical game with LSU.

     Every preseason look at MSU focuses first on returning junior quarterback Dak Prescott. Some believe he’s the best returning signal-caller in the league. Prescott battled injury last season, but led some big wins that got the Bulldogs to a bowl game. Prescott’s rushing numbers were second only to Auburn’s Nick Marshall, but only finished 11th in the SEC in passer rating. There’s talent returning among the offensive skill players, but it’s important to recognize that MSU returns only 6 starters on offense, and they’ve had questions on the line this past spring. One of the more dangerous problems was one with bad snaps that cropped up. Shoring up the center position will be a prime focus in fall camp. The Bulldogs must also replace leading running back Ladarius Perkins.

     On defense, the Bulldogs return 19 of 22 players on the two-deep depth chart, and most folks expect the Bulldogs to be tough on defense. Experience is a plus, and these guys last season held Auburn to 24, Alabama to 20 and Ole Miss to just 10 points. On the other hand, they allowed 59 to LSU, 51 to Texas A&M, and 34 to South Carolina, so it’s a mixed bag. Mississippi State held Auburn to just 120 rushing yards last season, and Tre Mason had just 34 yards on the ground. Look for the Bulldogs to again try to make Nick Marshall beat them with his arm.

     Special teams are somewhat of a concern for the Bulldogs. They’ve had snap problems on kicks this spring, also. Last season, a trio of guys managed just 10 of 21 field goals. Mississippi State was just average on kickoffs and punts, and got very little out of the return game, even with the talented, speedy Jameon Lewis fielding both punts and kickoffs. Coverage, at least, was solid. Much like Auburn, MSU special teams are a work in progress.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. MSU offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend 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 may be a factor by October, but he’s coming off spring knee surgery. Mississippi State has some questions on the offensive line. Starting senior center Dillon Day is expected to be fully recovered from an arm injury suffered during the spring, and that should shore up the snap problems seen in practice. Tackles will be seniors Blaine Causell and Damien Robinson, and the likely guard starters will be sophomore Jamaal Clayborn and senior Ben Beckwith. This was a fairly even match last season, with Auburn handling MSU running backs. However, they got little pressure on Dak Prescott, allowed him to rush for 134 yards, and tallied no sacks. Advantage: Even.

Auburn linebackers vs. MSU 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. I feel like they’ll do a better job this season containing scrambling quarterbacks. Senior Nick Griffin and junior Josh Robinson are capable runners for MSU, with Robinson giving the Bulldogs some speed, there. MSU doesn’t typically use a fullback, and relies mostly on a single tight end, so lead blocking will be at a premium. The Bulldogs try to keep teams from loading the box with multiple receiver sets, and motion. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn corners vs. MSU receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy 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. Mississippi State has a deep receiving corps, headlined by seniors Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson. Add in junior Joe Morrow, and sophomores Fred Brown and De’Runnya Wilson, and you’ve got a bunch that is tough to contain. Auburn was able to stay with the Bulldog receivers for the most part last season, giving up 213 passing yards and only a couple of big receptions. Advantage: Even.

Auburn safeties vs. MSU secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. Mississippi State took a blow after spring, with tight end Artimus Samuel leaving the team. Senior tight end Malcomb Johnson caught 30 balls last season, and was a reliable third-down option. Senior Brandon Hill returns from a foot injury suffered last season. MSU likes to swing passes to running backs, and will throw to Griffin and Robinson. Those two combined for 15 catches off the bench last season. Dak Prescott is expected to have a big season in 2014, and he was tough for Auburn to chase down last season. Advantage: Mississippi State.

Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Devon Bell punted about half the time for MSU last season as a pooch punter, and had a 41.2 yard average on 24 punts. He also generated 9 fair catches, and killed 14 inside the 20. Both Auburn and MSU were stifling on coverage. Auburn gave up only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. Mississippi State gave up 6.0 yards per return. Auburn is still auditioning punt returners to replace Chris Davis. MSU returns Jameon Lewis, who averaged just 2.3 yards per return last season. Advantage: Mississippi State.

Kickoffs: Auburn must replace veteran kicker Cody Parkey, and will do it with redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson. Junior Devon Bell handled kickoffs for the Bulldogs last season, nailing 25 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs. MSU coverage gave up 20.4 yards per return, while Auburn gave up 25.8. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. MSU counters with Jameon Lewis, who had 19 returns for a 23.5 yard average. Advantage: Mississippi State.

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. Mississippi State has settled on sophomore Evan Sobiesk for the kicking job this spring. Sobiesk hit on 3 of 6 field goals last season, and has shown a strong leg during spring drills. Advantage: Even.

Auburn offensive line vs. MSU 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, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. MSU is stout up front, returning senior end Preston Smith, sophomore A. J. Jefferson and junior Ryan Brown outside. In the middle, senior Kaleb Eulls is a veteran, and he’s joined by the talented sophomore Chris Jones, who has reportedly gotten much stronger this past off season after a good freshman season. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. MSU 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. Junior Benardrick McKinney led the team in tackles last season, and anchors the middle of the Bulldog defense. He’ll be joined by senior Matthew Wells, and sophomore Ritchie Brown. This bunch can run, and they are physical. Advantage: Even.

Auburn receivers vs. MSU 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. Senior Jamerson Love is a solid cover man, with quick feet. On the other side, junior Taveze Calhoun is a tall, rangy corner that should be able to match up height-wise with Auburn’s bigger guys. Still, Auburn has a serious weight advantage on both sides, and should win physical matchups. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. MSU 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. The Bulldogs counter with junior Kendrick Market, and sophomore Deontay Evans. Advantage: Auburn.

     After battling LSU, this definitely shapes up as a trap game for the Auburn Tigers. Auburn’s last three trips to Starkville have been tough games in a hostile, loud environment. These games resulted in 3-2 and 17-14 wins, and a blow-out loss in 2012. Both teams have the following week off, and will be able to throw in maximum effort.

     I expect Auburn to move the ball on most teams next fall, and MSU will be no exception. What the Tigers must do is hold onto the football. All eyes will be on the Auburn defense. If they can keep Dak Prescott in check, Auburn will win comfortably. If Prescott has a big night, this is anyone’s ball game. The Bulldogs will need this game, if they are to move into the upper echelon of the SEC West. Should MSU lose to LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, it will be another 6-8 win season for Dan Mullen, and folks will again be wondering if he’s reached his limit at Mississippi State.

Prediction: This turns into a game with offensive fireworks, but Nick Marshall again leads Auburn to the win in the final minutes. Tigers take it, 38-34.