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SEC Baseball 2011 Preview: Auburn Tigers

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RECORD LAST YEAR: 43-21
The Tigers won the SEC West but then faded in the postseason, going 1-2 in the conference tournament and failing to advance past a regional in the Greater Opelika Metropolitan Area.
KEY LOSS: Hunter Morris
Consensus All-American Morris was one of the best players in the SEC last year, hitting .386/.455/.743 with 105 hits and a league-leading 23 home runs. Morris ranked in the Top 10 in the league in practically every major hitting category (unless you count walks as a hitting category, though I'm inclined to throw it into the more general "offensive category"). Morris was also the only player to start every game for Auburn in 2010.
KEY RETURN: Kevin Patterson
Patterson was one of three Tigers drafted who decided to return to Auburn for his senior season anyway. He clubbed 16 home runs in 124 at-bats for Auburn last year, hitting .315/.419/.782 on the season. Patterson is the top remaining power threat on a team that used the long ball a lot in 2010.
TOUGHEST NON-CONFERENCE SERIES: ARIZONA STATE (3/11-3/13)
The 2011 edition of one of the best programs in the country visits Auburn early next month, a key test for a team trying to repeat one of its best seasons in years. Arizona State is the preseason No. 11 according to Baseball America, and would be a tough team for anyone in the SEC to face.
TOUGHEST SEC SERIES: at SOUTH CAROLINA (4/29/-5/1)
The Tigers don't play Florida at all this year, but they do have a trip to Columbia against a Gamecock squad that might not be quite as good as last season's national championship team, but have every right to expect to still be one of the tougher opponents in the country.
GOING TO HOOVER? Solid chance
The Tigers are losing quite a bit this year, but they also have plenty of their starting position players returning. If the pitching staff can recover from losing 26 wins -- not that doing so is a piece of cake -- the Tigers should easily be good enough to make a trip to the SEC tournament.
NCAAs? Not bad
Again, all you really have to be in the SEC nowadays is one of the best seven or eight teams in the conference. It's hard to see Auburn having a bad enough year to fall that far, unless all the bounces go against the Tigers -- and maybe even then.