Newton exceeded all expectations while winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Auburn to an unbeaten season and a national championship.
With Newton and most of the key components of last year’s team gone, public expectations for this year’s team are understandably low, and when Chizik addresses the media today at this year’s SEC Media Days, he may face fewer overall questions about a team that has far more question areas than a year ago.
However, if the Tigers find answers to those key questions, Auburn’s slide should stop somewhere above the SEC West cellar.
Here are the top five:
1. Who will replace Newton at quarterback and how effective will he be? Brandon Trotter and Clint Moseley exited the spring in a deadlock for the starting job. Both have limited playing experience, but both know the offense. Neither is anywhere near as skillful as Newton, but either should be effective in the offense. Incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier probably is more talented than Trotter or Moseley, but faces an uphill battle to win the job with limited preparation time.
2. Will Auburn’s rebuilt offensive line be good enough for the Tigers to win? Auburn replaces four players off an offensive line that was arguably the best in the country. Tackles A.J. Greene and Brandon Moseley have experience. The remainder of the starting line will be decided during the fall. It’s simply not possible for this year’s line to be as good as last year’s, but if Auburn’s quarterbacks can get the ball in the hands of the team’s playmakers, the offense should be solid.
3. Who will be Auburn’s playmakers on offense? It all starts at tailback with Mike Dyer, a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman, and Onterio McCalebb, a runner with breakaway speed. Emory Blake should be the Tigers’ top receiver. Look for Trovon Reed to emerge as a major playmaker at wide receiver also. He was in line to be in the starting rotation a year ago before being sidelined with an injury.
4. Who will be Auburn’s playmakers on defense? Last year defensive tackle Nick Fairley was a dominant force for the Tigers. There’s no player on defense this season who approaches Fairley’s level. Look for most of the big plays this season to come from the secondary. T’Sharvan Bell is the team’s best cornerback. Don’t be surprised if Neiko Thorpe leads the team in interceptions after moving from cornerback to safety. Nosa Egua should be the Tigers’ best playmaker up front.
5. How solid will the Tigers be in the kicking game? Maintaining consistency in this area will be huge for Auburn, particularly at place kicker where the Tigers lose all-time leading scorer Wes Byrum. Cody Parkey handled some of the kickoff duties last season, but is a bit of an unknown when it comes to field goals and extra points. Steven Clark was moderately effective at punter last season.