I’ve been to spring football games and I’ve been to an Auburn game (albeit 15 years ago).
But I’ve never been to the Auburn Spring Game, affectionately known as “A-Day” down in The Yellowhammer State.
But for a program with a BCS National Championship, an epically bad winless season, a coaching change followed by a worst-to-first season filled with fluke plays and historically ridiculous moments, I cannot wait to be in attendance for the 2014 Tigers Spring Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend.
Here are the most important, vital, interesting things, players and storylines I am looking forward to this weekend as I travel down to Auburn, Ala., to record and share the sights, sounds and stories of Auburn's spring celebration.
• The battle in the backfield to replace Tre Mason
Rising seniors Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne are the two most obvious choices to replace Mason’s prolific and record-setting 2013 season that included 1,816 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. But Grant (647 yards, 6 TDs) and Artis-Payne (610, 6) are both fully capable of producing in Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced running attack. Each has experience and the talent to be, together, nearly as productive as Mason. Toss in others like Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway and the Tigers should be in great shape at tailback.
• How will the D-line develop through the offseason?
Dee Ford was the heart and soul of the defensive line as he posted 29 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and 10.5 sacks a year ago. But his loss isn’t nearly as concerning as it should be. Auburn’s defensive guru Ellis Johnson still has talented options at his disposal up front in elite 2013 recruits Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel, along with rising senior Gabe Wright. Watching these youngsters develop into All-SEC stars should be fun to watch this weekend.
Athlon Sports will be covering both Iron Bowl spring games.
Follow @DavidFox615 for updates from Alabama and @BradenGall for updates from Auburn and stay tuned for game coverage Saturday and through the week.
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• My visit to Toomer’s Corner
The last time I visited Toomer’s Corner was in 1999. I was a high school student taking visits to campus and was, like most, drawn in by the charm of the massive oak trees and colorful campus intersection. I will never forget it. However, and for all the wrong reasons, I am anxious to see what has happened to The Corner since the infamous and tragic tree-poisoning incident. No matter what has (or will) happened to Toomer’s Corner, I am excited to get back to this historic campus locale.
• Who will replace Greg Robinson?
Robinson might be the safest pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He is an elite athlete with massive upside and tremendous overall athletic ability. And he was a huge part of the vaunted Auburn zone-read option attack last season. Replacing him at the second-most important position on the team (QB) will easily be Malzahn’s tallest order this spring. Finding a suitable replacement at left tackle will go a long way in helping Auburn repeat as SEC champions this fall.
• Will Nick Marshall throw the ball?
Honestly, if I was Malzahn, I’d have Marshall doing his best Jameis Winston impersonation and have him throw it 56 times. He’s not allowed to be hit by the defense, he’s facing live competition in the secondary and likely won’t face too many blitzes. Why not have him get as many reps as a passer as possible against an SEC defense — even if it is the second-teamers? What’s the the harm? We already know what he can do with his legs, I want to see how he has developed as a passer. Unfortunately, odds are Marshall plays three series and is pulled before the end of the first quarter.
• Nova’s Jordan-Hare flyover
It is one of college football’s greatest traditions and I, for one, can’t wait for the crowd to erupt when War Eagle VIII — named Nova — takes flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday afternoon. One of the greatest stadiums in the nation mixed with one of the nation’s top mascots taking part in one of the nation’s greatest traditions? What’s not to get excited about? (Assuming, of course, that the majestic bird will be a part of the A-Day activities.)
• Find leadership in the back seven on defense
Ryan Smith, Ryan White, Chris Davis and Jake Holland were all senior starters (and stars) for the Auburn defense a year ago. The secondary and linebacking corps has plenty of talent returning but needs to address leadership and develop experience at these position. Sophomore linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have all the talent to become stars in the SEC while guys like Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie could do the same in the secondary. Watching this group come together during practice will be an enjoyable process for this football junkie.
• How many plays will Auburn run?
And better yet, how many points does Malzahn want to score? This offense runs plays faster than anyone else in the conference and it was borderline unstoppable a year ago. What is Malzahn’s goal for this spring game? Florida’s new offense under Kurt Roper ran 111 plays and 16 different receivers caught passes. Malzahn should easily be able to run 120 plays on offense. And that would make for a fun afternoon in my opinion.
• Can Auburn top last year’s attendance record?
Auburn set an SEC record with over 83,000 people at last year’s spring game. And that was before Malzahn led his team to an SEC championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game while shattering rushing records along way. So the question is has the last 12 months only added to the raw excitement that is A-Day or will it be impossible to match the astounding mark set a year ago? Only time will tell.
• The Tailgates
There are a lot of fantastic places in this country to tailgate. Seattle, Columbus, Norman, Eugene, Madison and Blacksburg are just a few. But as an SEC alum, I am partial to the pregame festivities of the Southeastern Conference. And I can’t wait to stroll through the RV caravan, E-Z Up tents, BBQ smokers, red Solo cups, and, of course, the “gorgeous scenery” on Saturday morning. Part of what makes college football a much better gameday experience than the NFL is a beautiful Saturday morning tailgate. And Auburn does it as well as anyone in the nation.
Note: If you think your tailgate is the best, hit me up on Twitter (@BradenGall) and I will be happy to swing by and cast my vote.