It's hard to remember a more attrition-racked team than the 2011 Auburn Tigers. The top-line losses were Cam Newton on offense and Nick Fairley on defense -- and it was pretty clear that one of those losses, in particular, was going to affect how good Auburn could be. But that wasn't all; the then-reigning national champions had just six returning starters, according to Phil Steele.
This year is a little bit better. Steele counts 15 returning starters among the Tigers' 22 positions, which means that a bump in performance of some sort could be expected. (Quarterback is another story, however.) Then again, you could also look at a team undergoing transition at both coordinator positions and say that there's still some room for transitional pain. That will in part depend on how well some of the players learn their new roles.
BIGGEST RETURN | DE Corey Lemonier
On a team that didn't have a ton of defense last year, it's a little bit of a surprise that Corey Lemonier didn't get more attention than he did. All Lemonier accomplished was sacking the quarterback 9.5 times while recording a total of 15 hurries and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also forced five fumbles and recovered one while blocking a kick. If Auburn's revamped defense is going to help the team move up in the conference this year, Lemonier is going to have to have another great year.
BIGGEST LOSS | RB Michael Dyer
Despite the fact that this team didn't lose anywhere near the amount of talent that left Auburn between 2010 and 2011, it still lost some quality players. And one of those is Michael Dyer, who led last year's team with 1,242 yards and ten touchdowns. Even in the Cam Newton-dominated 2010 season, Dyer had 1,093 yard and five touchdowns. So his transfer to Arkansas State is no small matter -- especially given the uncertain situation at quarterback. There are some potential replacements on the roster, including Onterio McCalebb, but it's hard for anyone to truly replace a guy with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on his resume.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | WR Emory Blake
Of course, what any wide receiver can do will depend at least in part on the quarterback situation. But if there's someone competent throwing the ball for the Tigers, Blake could easily become one of their favorite targets. Blake has averaged 15.8 yards a catch during his career at Auburn and gained 613 yards and five touchdowns on 36 catches in 2011, despite missing two games. If Blake keeps up what's been relatively steady per-game improvement since his first season on the Plains and can stay healthy, he's a good bet to be a big weapon in the Auburn offense.