Auburn Football: Can Tigers Increase Their Wins in 2012?

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Onterio McCalebb will have to carry the offense in 2012.

<p> Auburn Football: Can Tigers Increase Their Wins in 2012?</p>

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown began on May 1. Needless to say, picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Leading up to teh release of No. 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Auburn Increase its Win Total in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Auburn waved goodbye to Cam Newton and Nick Fairley two years ago and dropped from 14 wins to eight. Now what will the departures of Michael Dyer and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn? Auburn may be in for another dropoff in 2012. I’ll try not to read too much into the way Auburn lost its five games last season, all by two touchdowns or more. The losses were to three top-10 teams (Alabama, LSU, Arkansas), the ACC champion (Clemson) and the SEC East winner (Georgia). Not much shame there. That said, Auburn’s lucky it won even eight games last season. The passing game was dreadful and the defense was nearly as bad. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have nine returning starters to work with, but Auburn’s defense still has to make up a ton a ground to move into nine- and 10-win territory, especially in the unforgiving SEC West. Meanwhile, the offense is a mystery with Malzahn off to Arkansas State. Who is going to move the ball for the Tigers? Clint Moseley? Kiehl Frazier? Onterio McCalebb? A year after combining for one offensive touchdown against Alabama and LSU last season, Auburn will be in danger of being shut out by the better defenses in the league. If that’s the case, Auburn is probably closer to missing a bowl game than it is to winning more than eight.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Tigers are the single most intriguing team in the SEC this summer. They are the biggest wildcard in the conference and will most assuredly play a huge role in the conference title race one way or the other. This team has recruited at an elite level nationally and has the talent to compete in the SEC West. Yet, inexplicably the Tigers have dramatically underachieved on the defensive side of the ball for two full seasons. Finding a quarterback who can push the football down the field will be also be imperative to 2012 success. I am almost more interested in seeing how this Auburn team comes together than anything else in the SEC this fall.

Two fantastic hires, Scott Loeffler on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense, have stabilized the coaching staff uncertainty under Gene Chizik. But these two coordinators have loads of work to do on the Plains. The talent is dripping off of this roster, particularly in the defensive front seven and along the offensive line — two areas that normally would indicate on the field success. Only time will tell if all those five-star blockers will be able to move the pile in the running game or protect the quarterback in the passing game.

Due to the upgrades on the coaching staff and the development of elite recruiting classes, this team should be improved in 2012. It just may not show up in the win column. Auburn was lucky get wins over South Carolina and Florida and failed to even compete with the better teams in the league — losing by a total of 125 points to Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia. Those four games will once again be brutal tests but at least the Bayou Bengals, Hogs and Dawgs have to visit Auburn this year. Clemson is again on the schedule as well, so another 8-5 (4-4) season is likely. But I believe the War Eagle ship is headed in the right direction and will be much more competitive this time around.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s certainly possible Auburn will be better than it was last year, but it may not show up in the win column. The Tigers are a team with a lot of question marks. The offense struggled last year and it may not be much better in 2012. Kiehl Frazier has potential at quarterback, but how will he fit in with new coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme? Onterio McCalebb is a solid running back, but may not be able to handle the full workload.

In addition to the concerns on offense, the Tigers have to figure out some answers on defense. The good news for new coordinator Brian VanGorder is nine starters are back and the defensive line could be among the best in the SEC. After the front four is where VanGorder has his work cut out. The linebacking corps and secondary have some talented players returning, but neither unit performed up to expectations last year.

In order to improve on last year’s eight wins, Auburn needs to pull a few upsets along the way. The Tigers will likely be underdogs in the season opener against Clemson and heads to Mississippi State in Week 2. It’s not out of the question to think Auburn could start 0-2. Games against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama would appear to be loses and a trip to Vanderbilt isn’t a guaranteed win.

Auburn is recruiting well, but there are too many question marks to expect a run at the SEC West title. I could see the Tigers finishing the regular season with an 8-4 mark, but would be surprised if they won more than eight games.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Tigers will be a better team than last year’s inexperienced group, but I still see them at the seven-win mark in the regular season. The 2012 campaign begins with a tough game versus the high-octane offense of Clemson in Atlanta. Additionally, Gene Chizik’s crew will likely be the underdog in SEC contests against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. Auburn lost to the five aforementioned opponents last season by an average of 27.8 points. The talented Tigers roster should close the gap this year or maybe even win one or two of those games this year, but they also have challenging games against  Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has done great work with quarterbacks at places like Michigan, Florida and Temple a year ago, and he will need to find some production out of the position for Auburn to have success. There are veteran weapons in running back Onterio McCalebb, receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, so the Tigers will have a shot at some upsets if Loeffler finds a signal caller. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has plenty of starters returning, led by All-SEC end Corey Lemonier and linebacker Daren Bates. Auburn will be an interesting team with a talented roster, but a tough schedule put the forecast at 7-5 for the regular season.

Where will Auburn finish in the 2012 SEC standings? Check back throughout May as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

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