2005 RECORD: 9-3 (7-1 in SEC West) RETURNING STARTERS: 14
QB Brandon Cox (Jr.)
Threw for 2,324 yards and 15 TDs last year
OT King Dunlap (Jr.)
The 6'8" 318-pounder has loads of talent but little experience
DE Quentin Groves (Jr.)
Finished with six sacks in '05
Big Man on Campus
After starting 36 games at free safety, 6'3", 221-pound senior Will Herring is moving to strongside linebacker. A sure tackler and an old hand at providing run support, Herring will beef up a position at which the Tigers are short on experience.
Running back Kenny Irons could carry the Tigers to the top -- if a revamped defense keeps up its end
He may be a Heisman Trophy candidate now, but only two years ago Kenny Irons was a transfer pulling duty as a tackling dummy on the Tigers' scout team. As a senior at Dacula (Ga.) High in 2002 he chose not to sign with Auburn because its depth chart included Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, who both went on to become top five NFL draft picks. So Irons instead went to South Carolina -- which he now calls the biggest mistake of his life. He and coach Lou Holtz feuded throughout Irons's sophomore year while he backed up freshman tailback Demetrius Summers, a native son from Lexington. "Hometown heroes are hard to beat," says Irons. "When I transferred, I told myself I would do whatever it took, even if that meant getting banged on for a whole year."
Irons arrived at Auburn in January 2004 and impressed the coaching staff with his dogged work in practice. "I was trying to make him feel better and get him to laugh," says his older brother, David, a cornerback who transferred to Auburn at the same time from Butler (Kans.) Community College. "Well, he didn't always laugh. That was a sign to me that he was really serious."
Fast and physical, the 5'11", 200-pound Irons could carry Auburn to lofty heights this fall. He averaged 21.3 carries and earned unanimous All-SEC honors last season, when he ran for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the Tigers breaking in a new receiving corps, coach Tommy Tuberville spent the spring emphasizing to his team the need for a dominant running game. The offense will need another dimension, of course, which explains why Irons -- who caught only 14 passes last year -- spent the off-season sharpening his receiving skills. "My job," says quarterback Brandon Cox, "will be to get him the ball however I can."
Behind Cox and Irons, Auburn will have no problem scoring points, which should give the defense time to develop under new coordinator Will Muschamp, a former LSU and Miami Dolphins assistant. If the Tigers can upset No. 4 LSU in Auburn on Sept. 16, they will make a strong run at an undefeated season. "We're young, but we have a great team," Irons says. "I think we're going to shock a lot of people this year."-- M.B.