Here's why Auburn is one of the more interesting teams around right now: This is set to be the junior year for the recruiting class that came in after the 2010 national championship. That would be the national championship that was one in large part thanks to then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who is now the head man at Auburn. If there's a team not based in Oxford that has a chance to wildly exceed expectations, it could be Auburn. That doesn't meant the Tigers would end up in the BCS, mind you, but a Peach Bowl berth at this point would be reason for giddiness in the Auburn-Opelika metropolitan area.
BIGGEST RETURN | RB Tre Mason
If, like most SEC fans, you stopped paying attention to Auburn some time in late October -- okay, mid-October -- you might have missed the fact that Auburn had a 1,000-yard rusher. But Auburn did, in fact, have a 1,000 yard rusher in Tre Mason. In fairness, Mason did just make it (1,002 yards) and only after huge games against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M (a combined 333 yards in those two games) -- but a 1,000-yard rusher is a 1,000-yard rusher, and it's not like you've got a horde of All-Americans returning to the Plains this year. If nothing else, Mason gives Gus Malzahn something to build on, or at least someone to go to as he tries to make the Auburn offense a functioning offense once more. Look for Mason to get more than 171 carries this year as long as he's healthy enough to stay on the field.
BIGGEST LOSS | WR Emory Blake
It's also not like Auburn lost a ton of All-Americans off last year's team. But they did lose a pretty good receiver in Emory Blake, who was the only Auburn player to catch more than 15 passes and the only one to break 150 yards. Really. Blake had 789 yards and three touchdowns on 50 catches last years, numbers that (as just suggested) blew away everyone else on the team. In fact, the Tigers lose three of their top four receivers and have just one player returning (Quan Bray) with more than 10 receptions last year; Bray had 14. The top returning receiver in terms of yardage is C.J. Uzomah -- so Auburn has a lot of work to do when it comes to receivers (and quarterbacks), and it would have been far easier to do that work if the Tigers weren't losing a guy like Blake.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | The quarterback
Even if we don't know who he is yet. The smart money is on junior college transfer Nick Marshall after Auburn's current options underwhelmed in the spring, but whoever gets the job will almost certainly do better than they did last year. Kiehl Frazier is intriguing because he was recruited for Malzahn's system, then placed into a pro-style system by Gene Chizik in one of the many dumb decisions Gene Chizik made in 2012. (For an optimistic take on Frazier's chances now that Malzahn's back, go here.) If Marshall gets the job, it will likely be because his interception problems were fixed and he picked up the offense well enough to pass Frazier. If Frazier gets the job, it could be more of a mixed bag or status quo decision -- but it also could mean he finally feels at home in the offense he should have been in for his entire career.