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9. Auburn
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Stocked in the backfield and stacked on defense, the Tigers are primed to climb in the SEC West

By Pete McEntegart

Fast Facts
2002 Record: 9-4 (5-3, T1 in SEC West)
Final AP Rank: 14
Returning Starters: 16
Telling Number
Straight games in which Carnell Williams rushed for a TD, the first Tiger to do so. The streak ended when he broke his leg on Oct. 19.
Smart Move
Coach Tommy Tuberville's decision to elevate offensive line coach Hugh Nall to offensive coordinator was the right call. An assistant to Tuberville for eight years at Ole Miss and Auburn, Nall prepared the Tigers' rushing attack, which last season ranked third in the conference with 203.7 yards per game.
Sports IllustratedFor Auburn outside linebacker Karlos Dansby, Nov. 23, 2002, was a day rich in victory and irony. That afternoon the Tigers smothered archrival and favored Alabama, 17-7, in Tuscaloosa, as Dansby made five tackles and blew up plays with typical abandon. This was the same player who two years earlier, while a two-way standout at Birmingham's Woodlawn High, had chosen Auburn over Alabama largely because the Tigers had said he could play wide receiver rather than linebacker, where the Crimson Tide thought he was better suited. Yet it was as a defensive standout that Dansby stood in a Bryant-Denny Stadium end zone five days before Thanksgiving and crowed that Alabama could "put this L in a turkey and smoke it."

With eight starters returning on each side of the ball, Auburn plans to smoke all of its opponents this fall. On offense the Tigers are particularly loaded at tailback, where junior Ronnie Brown had a breakout performance last season (1,008 yards) after Carnell (Cadillac) Williams (745) broke his left leg in the seventh game. Defensively, the Tigers have six of their front seven back, most notably 6'4", 238-pound senior linebacker Dontarrious Thomas (92 tackles) and the 6'5", 235-pound Dansby, who last spring was projected as a second-round NFL draft pick before he decided to return for the most anticipated season in Tommy Tuberville's five years as Auburn coach.

Dansby played wide receiver only during two-a-day preseason practices as a freshman in 2000. Then the coaches convinced him that his athleticism would get him on the field more quickly if he switched to defense. As a safety in 2001 and at linebacker last year, Dansby established himself as a playmaker. Last fall he had 14 tackles for loss, made three interceptions and forced two fumbles and recovered two.

"He could play almost any position," says Tuberville. "He's just an all-around athlete who has made himself into a good football player." While he's found a home at linebacker, Dansby still dreams of taking a few snaps at receiver. "I've still got great hands, still got my moves on the line," he says. "If you happen to see me out there, don't be shocked."

Issue date: August 11, 2003