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SEATED BEHIND HIS EXPANSIVE OFFICE DESK, GENE CHIZIK HAS a wide view of Auburn's practice field, which last year was torn up as part of a $16.5 million renovation project. In 2012 the biggest construction effort on the Plains is of Chizik's team: Eighteen months removed from winning the national title, the Tigers will have a revamped look, with new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler scrapping the spread for a traditional two-back offense, and first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder implementing a pro-style, attacking defense. "The changes are going to make us stronger—we're going to go back and play more physical football on both sides of the ball," says Chizik.
After an off-season darkened by the tragic June 9 shooting deaths of two players who Chizik recruited, Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, Auburn will try to refocus come the fall. Perhaps the key to the season will be sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier and how quickly he can develop into a top-tier SEC starter. Playing primarily out of the Wildcat last season, Frazier carried the ball 76 times for 327 yards while completing five of 12 passes for 34 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Chizik hasn't officially named Frazier the starter—junior Clint Moseley will also vie for snaps with the first unit—but all signs point to Frazier commandeering the job. He possesses elite physical skills: He can throw the ball 75 yards and run the 40 in 4.65 seconds. This spring Frazier showed improved accuracy, and several of his veteran teammates will look you in the eye and say that he has a little Cam Newton in him.
"Last year I just wasn't comfortable in the offense, but now there's a night-and-day difference," Frazier says. "We're going to try to throw the ball vertically as much as possible."
The defense, which allowed more than 400 yards per game last season, brings back nine starters. The unit should be improved under VanGorder, who spent the last four seasons running the Atlanta Falcons' defense. "We feel like we have something to prove as a defense and as a team this year," says defensive end Nosa Eguae. "We're going to be more aggressive on defense, getting more push up the field. And our offense looked real good this spring. Nobody seems to think too much of us right now. But that's just the way we like it."
COACH Gene Chizik (4th year) 30--10 (15--9 in SEC)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Scot Loeffler
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Brian VanGorder
2011 RECORD 8--5 (4--4, 4th in SEC West)