Offensive: The Tigers have acquired a major weapon in 6-foot-6, 247-pound junior quarterback Cameron Newton, the former Florida Gator who was part of last season’s junior-college national championship team. Newton looks like a difference-maker, possessing exceptional arm strength and running ability. He’s just the ingredient needed for an Auburn offense that can use an extra boost. Senior Mario Fannin and sophomore Onterio McCalebb are a good backfield tandem. There is a big-play receiver in junior Darvin Adams. Meanwhile, the offensive line is rugged and experienced. The best of the four returning starters are senior left tackle Lee Ziemba and senior center Ryan Pugh.
Defensive: Last season, there was uncertainty at linebacker. Now there is security. Senior Craig Stevens, one of the SEC’s best, leads a group that includes converted safety Daren Bates, and senior Josh Bynes, the team’s top tackler. There are top-flight cornerbacks in senior Demond Washington and junior Neiko Thorpe. The defensive line has an abundance of possibilities, but two seniors, defensive end Antoine Carter and defensive tackle Mike Blanc, are the anchors.
Specialists: Senior place-kicker Wes Byrum, one of the nation’s best, converted on 15 of his 16 field-goal attempts last season. Senior Ryan Shoemaker is expected to be the new punter. In the return game, senior Demond Washington averaged an eye-popping 31.1 yards on kickoffs.
Coaching: One year ago, there was much skepticism surrounding Gene Chizik, who was hired despite a lackluster two-season stint at Iowa State. But Chizik quickly put his imprint on the program, providing momentum through recruiting, developing a no-nonsense team approach and capping the season off with an electrifying Outback Bowl victory against Northwestern.
Heisman hopefuls: Auburn isn’t expected to feature any Heisman candidates this season, although Newton could be a name for 2011.
Next up: No. 21 Utah
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