SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Auburn.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
1. Quickest turnaround
That’s right – of the four new head coaches, Gus Malzhan should have the quickest turnaround. Why? Gene Chizik’s problem wasn’t recruiting; it was developing what he recruited. The two best players to come out of the Chizik era were Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, and Chizik developed neither, as both were JUCO guys. So, there’s talent in the program to work with yesterday. Auburn finishes top five in recruiting annually, and recruiting has never been their problem. Malzahn will take that talent, put a flashy offense together and score points.
2. Nick Marshall
Nick Marshall won the quarterback job. Jeremy Johnson may be the future, but Marshall gives them the best chance to win now. One concerning stat for Marshall was his 20 INTs in JUCO last season, although he’s played well in camp. Marshall is a tremendous athlete, and the Cam Newton comparisons are unavoidable. Who’s not looking forward to seeing Marshall in Auburn’s offense?
3. Johnson-ed defense
With Malzahn’s offensive prowess, it was so important to make the right hire on defense with Ellis Johnson. Johnson is known as a defensive guru, much like Malzahn is to offense, with plenty of proven SEC experience. Johnson made the Tigers’ wretched 2012 defense get back to basics in spring ball. They worked on fundamentals and tackling. His 4-2-5 scheme will feature a Star, which is a fancy name for a hybrid safety linebacker. In Johnson’s scheme, the Tigers will play a lot of three-deep zone with a single high safety. The Tigers enter 2013 not only as a team that stands to make a big jump on offense, but one that stands to make a big splash on defense, too.
It’s interesting that Auburn went in a totally different direction than in-state rival Alabama. Nick Saban, a defensive-minded coach, has built a dynasty around a pro-style offense, while Auburn went with an offensive-minded coach to lead their program into the future. Malzahn has proven he can be a part of a championship, but being the head coach is entirely different. Spread offenses win games, but do spread offenses win championships? Auburn and Florida have both proven it’s possible with elite quarterbacks. Is that guy on campus? We’re going to find out.
SDS takeaway: Auburn winning seven or eight games and having a massive revival wouldn’t be surprising to me. What would be surprising is if this team doesn’t make a bowl game in the first season. Talent is there waiting to be developed and used correctly, and we’re going to find out whether Malzahn can maximize it to his use to create the sexiest turnaround in college football.