GLENDALE AZ - JANUARY 10: Michael Dyer #5 of the Auburn Tigers runs the ball for 16-yards and is called down at the one-yardline with 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10 2011 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Running back is set.
Michael Dyer became one of only nine players to rush for over 1,000 yards as a freshman in the SEC, a club even Bo Jackson is not a part of. Onterio McCalebb has been burning up the turf at Jordan-Hare for two years now. They form one of the best running back tandems in not just the conference, but the nation. Behind them is a pair of four-star tailback signees in Tre Mason and Quan Bray. As I understand it, there's even an outside chance that Florida signee-turned-transfer Mike Blakely could get a waiver to play this fall (though it's very unlikely). Auburn is set at the position not just for 2011, but for years to come.
2. The offense is in good hands.
It's hard to believe that some people still doubt Gus Malzhan as an offensive mind, but many of those who do are the kind of person who thinks any deception other than play action is a gimmick. He helped win the SEC West at Arkansas despite starting a true freshman for much of the season and being micromanaged by his head coach. He and Herb Hand laid waste to teams at Tulsa. He immediately turned Auburn around from a bottom quintile to a top quintile offense, and he helped win a national championship and groomed a Heisman Trophy winner last year. Auburn gave him 1.3 million reasons to turn down middling head coaching opportunities this winter, but enjoy him while you can, Auburn fans. He won't be there much longer.
3. The defensive line pipeline appears to still be intact.
Every season from last year to, oh, the beginning of the program, Auburn seems to have a pretty good (at least) defensive line with at least one standout. If that star isn't going to be the sole returning starter Nosa Eguae, then it's likely to be the other defensive end Corey Lemonier (2010 freshman All-SEC). Of course, the guys on the inside (Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter) were four-star recruits like Lemonier, so anything's on the table. On top of that, highly touted true freshman Gabe Wright could come in and make some noise. Auburn will need all these young guys to step up given that five guys from last year's rotation are gone, but the school has a great history with developing guys on the defensive front.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. What to expect out of the quarterback spot.
I know, I know: Malzahn did wonders with Chris Todd behind center in 2009. I don't doubt his ability to groom quarterbacks. I also know Todd signed with Texas Tech out of high school and would have thrown for 5,000 yards had he stayed in Lubbock. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley failed to distance themselves from one another in spring, and for all we know, Auburn is just marking time until Kiehl Frazier gets to campus. That's three guys who could conceivably start, and as Florida proved so well last year, if you have three quarterbacks that means you have no quarterbacks. And before you try to draw a parallel between Frazier and Mitch Mustain, keep in mind that while Dyer is good, he is not Darren McFadden. Unless Russell Wilson decides to transfer to the Plains, quarterback is a big question mark heading into the fall.
2. How the offensive line will perform.
As the offseason has gone on, more and more folks are drawing attention to the outstanding play of Auburn's 2010 offensive line. While it's good for those players to get the recognition they deserve, the reason is largely because the unit is a black hole this fall. Only one starter from last year returns, and Phil Steele has projected two freshman on the top line of the depth chart. Let's also not forget that when last year's line did have some breakdowns, Cam Newton often made up for it with his elusiveness. The combination of new starters learning to play together, the lack of experience, and the absence of Newton means that the effectiveness of the line is taking a big hit.
3. How the defense plans to stop most teams.
Auburn's defense last year was not elite. It was crafty, and it was timely, but it was not elite. It was a good-but-not-great fourth in the SEC in yards per carry defense, allowing 4.21 yards a pop with sacks taken out. It was ninth in the SEC in passing efficiency defense. Despite Nick Fairley's brilliant play, it actually declined in third down defense for the second consecutive year. Also: Ted Roof is still officially the defensive coordinator. Toss all that in a blender and puree it with the massive attrition, and you've got yourself a mediocre defense smoothie.