Coach: Tommy Tuberville (7th season, 51-24) 2004 record: 13-0 (Beat Virginia Tech in Sugar Bowl) SEC finish: 8-0 (1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 29th (183.3 ypg) Passing: 40th (237.4 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 12th (104.2 ypg) Passing: 10th (173.5 ypg)
Depth Chart: Offense
6 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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Al Borges chuckles when fans call him an offensive genius. "There are no geniuses coaching college football," he said, "but there are some guys who are fairly innovative."
The Auburn offensive coordinator will get to show every bit of his innovative side this fall, because all the star power that played in the Tigers' backfield last season has high-tailed it for the NFL.
Borges signed one of the biggest contracts ever given to an SEC assistant after last year's run to a No. 2 national ranking. He'll get a chance earn every penny of it this season.
"It's not so much the Xs and Os as the Jimmys and Joes," Borges is fond of saying. The problem for Borges this season is that Jimmy and Joe -- uh, Brown and Williams -- will be running in the NFL. The new running backs are Kenny Irons, a transfer from South Carolina, Tre Smith, a veteran who played in just three games last year, and Carl Stewart, who only played when Brown and Williams were through running over the opposition.
"All our backs have shown they're SEC players," Borges said.
Auburn's receivers are first-rate, led by playmaker Courtney Taylor. The offensive line returns virtually intact. The defense has a new coordinator and will be missing cornerback Carlos Rogers, the 2004 Thorpe Award winner, but the undersized-but-lightning-quick linebackers all return.
Everything is stable at the top. Coach Tommy Tuberville parlayed Auburn's successful season into a seven-year contract that could be worth $18 million. He also beat down the would-be assassins and saboteurs who wanted his head the year before by putting together one of the great take-that seasons in college history.
Gone are quarterback Jason Campbell and running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, three players who helped Auburn to a school-best 13-0 record, an SEC title and a No. 2 national ranking last season. In their place are a little-used quarterback, a running back who sat out last season after transferring in and another running back who is almost three years removed from his best game.
New quarterback Brandon Cox got to watch a master at work last season in Campbell, who finished as the most accurate passer in Auburn history. He also left as the school's winningest quarterback. Cox was the backup for last season, but barely played in the final eight games.
The new running backs looked good in the spring, but remember this: Brown and Williams rushed for 2,078 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Irons, Smith and Stewart rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
The backfield is new, but the rest of the offense is experienced. Taylor is a big-play receiver, and he's got experienced mates in Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu.
The offensive line is anchored by Marcus McNeill, who is being touted as a preseason All-America tackle.
Auburn led the nation in scoring defense last year, and, except for the loss of a couple of defensive backs, figures to be just as tough.
The headline-grabbers could be defensive ends Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves. They combined for 15 sacks last season even though they started just two games between them -- both by McClover. Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Kevin Sears are undersized-but-quick linebackers. Auburn will run the defense through them.
New defensive coordinator David Gibbs has to replace Rogers, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back, and safety Junior Rosegreen, a fixture in the secondary for four years. Gibbs will certainly get to choose their successors. He coaches the defensive backs.
John Vaughn quietly put together a solid season last year, connecting on 12-of-15 field goal attempts. Kody Bliss, who has shown an uncanny knack for knocking kicks dead inside the 20-yard line, returns as the punter.
Auburn returns plenty of veteran players from the best season in school history, but Campbell, Brown and Williams will be missed. Campbell, in particular, excelled last season as a fifth-year senior.
The Tigers can learn their way while playing their first five games at home. They had better be ready by then. The second half of the season includes games at Arkansas, LSU and Georgia.