What's next for Auburn and Oregon?

Will Oregon or Auburn contend in 2011?

Will Oregon or Auburn contend in 2011?

The curtain has closed on the 2010 season, with Auburn claiming its first title in 53 seasons. With Auburn and Oregon facing some key losses this offseason, how will both teams look in 2011? Here's an early look at how Auburn and Oregon stack up for next season, with key returnees, losses and schedule.

Key returnees: RB Michael Dyer, WR Darvin Adams, WR Emory Blake, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, CB Neiko Thorpe, S Mike McNeil 
Key losses: LT Lee Ziemba, LG Mike Berry, C Ryan Pugh, RG Byron Isom, DE Antoine Carter, LB Josh Bynes, LB Craig Stevens, S Zac Etheridge 
NFL Draft Watch: QB Cam Newton, DT Nick Fairley 
2011 Schedule 
Sept. 3 Utah State
Sept. 10 Mississippi State
Sept. 17 at Clemson
Sept. 24 FAU
Oct. 1 at South Carolina
Oct. 8 at Arkansas
Oct. 15 Florida
Oct. 22 at LSU
Oct. 29 Ole Miss
Nov. 5 Samford
Nov. 12 at Georgia
Nov. 26 Alabama 
Auburn's 2011 title hopes will hinge on quarterback Cam Newton. The junior easily exceeded expectations after transferring from Blinn College and will likely declare as an early entrant to the NFL. If Newton decides to return, the Tigers should find a spot in the preseason top five. However, if Newton decides to bolt, the Tigers will be a fringe top 25 team, with junior Barrett Trotter, sophomore Clint Moseley and incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier vying to replace the Heisman Trophy winner. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is also a hot property for coaching vacancies should any open over the next few weeks. Keeping Malzahn will be a top priority for coach Gene Chizik. 
Although losing Newton will be a huge blow to Auburn's hopes of repeating, the offensive line must replace four starters, and the defense could take a hit with defensive tackle Nick Fairley also declaring for the NFL Draft. Considering that the defense struggled for much of 2010, losing six starters will be a significant concern for Chizik and coordinator Ted Roof. The Tigers will have some huge holes to fill, but the continued improvement of running back Michael Dyer and strong recruiting classes will have Auburn back in a bowl game next season. 
The schedule was slanted in Auburn's favor in 2010, but it will be a brutal road next season. The Tigers have four difficult conference road dates, along with hosting Florida and Alabama. The Gators will be a year away from contending under Will Muschamp, while the Crimson Tide could be the preseason favorite in the SEC West. Without Newton, eight victories and a bowl appearance is a realistic outcome for Auburn in 2011. 
Key returnees: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, OG Carson York, RT Mark Asper, WR Josh Huff, CB Cliff Harris, ROV Eddie Pleasant, S John Boyett 
Key losses: WR Jeff Maehl, LT Bo Thran, C Jordan Holmes, LB Casey Matthews, DT Brandon Bair, DE Kenny Rowe, LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Talmadge Jackson III 
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Auburn and Oregon face some key losses this offseason - does either team have a shot at making a return trip to the national title next year?
2011 Schedule 
Sept. 3 LSU (Dallas)
Sept. 10 Nevada
Sept. 24 at Arizona
Oct. 6 California
Oct. 15 Arizona State
Oct. 22 at Colorado
Oct. 29 Washington State
Nov. 5 at Washington
Nov. 12 at Stanford
Nov. 19 USC
Nov. 26 Oregon State
(1 non-conference game TBD) 

Although Auburn earned the 2011 BCS National Championship, Oregon is better positioned to make a return trip to title game next season. The offense will remain among the best in the nation with the return of quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. Despite missing a game due to suspension, James finished third nationally with 1,622 yards on the ground and second with 21 rushing scores. Although the Ducks return their top two offensive stars, they must replace three offensive linemen and receiver Jeff Maehl. Expect sophomore Josh Huff to assume a larger role in the passing game next season. 

Due to the Ducks' high-scoring offense, the defense was often overlooked. However, Oregon's defense rose to the occasion when called upon in the national title game and ranked among the best units in the Pac-10. Coordinator Nick Aliotti rotates a lot of players into the game each week, but the Ducks have key losses along every level of the defense. Replacing linebacker Casey Matthews and defensive end Kenny Rowe will be among the most difficult tasks for Aliotti in 2011. Cornerback Cliff Harris is a rising star and should lead a stingy Oregon pass defense next season. 
One other obstacle to an Oregon return trip to the national title will be its expanded conference. With Colorado and Utah joining the Pac-10, the conference will divide into divisions and play a championship game at the end of the season. The Ducks catch a break with USC and Arizona State visiting Eugene, but a November 12 date at Stanford won't be easy. 

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