Friday, June 14, 2013

The Auburn Realist: 2013 Expectations for the First Half of the Season

Every one else is doing it...right? Yeah, so, Athlon, Lindy's, etc have all released their predictions for this coming football season.

I have been trolling a few Auburn forums and reading other people's expectations as well.

The Auburn fans are all seeing....all kinds of potential records. But, I see more 7-5 to 10-2 records than anything. Most of the magazines see 6-6.

And, if everyone else is doing it...shouldn't I? Now that I am well versed in every one's opinions and gathered all the "facts"....I will take a shot.

If you didn't know, here it what the schedule looks like:

  • 08/31 – Washington State
  • 09/07 – Arkansas State
  • 09/14 – Mississippi State
  • 09/21 – at LSU
  • 09/28 – Open Date
  • 10/05 – Ole Miss
  • 10/12 – Western Carolina
  • 10/19 – at Texas A&M
  • 10/26 – Florida Atlantic
  • 11/02 – at Arkansas
  • 11/09 – at Tennessee
  • 11/16 – Georgia
  • 11/23 – Open Date
  • 11/30 – Alabama
Let's get to it. How about the first half of the season.

  • 08/31 – Washington State
  • Initially, Washington State looks like an intriguing line up with the Mike Leach Air raid Attack coming to town. It will inevitably get some good air time. It gives the perception of Very West Coast PAC-12 High flying Offense meets Very SEC Defense Grind You Run Game. But it's not, and any casual observer can tell you that the perception is only skin deep. Leach and Co had a very similar situation last year as one of the very first featured games of the year on August 30th. It was probably the first televised game of the year and everyone watched it.....well...that's a stretch...but any real football fan did. Why not? It was disciplined defense against the air raid attack! Leach had a capable QB and expectations were  high. What happened? 30-3. Yeah. I recall I watched it for about 15 minutes and I gave up. And so the rest of the season went for Leach and Co as injuries mounted and the complete lack of talent showed across the board.  Auburn, on the other hand, was supposed to be back to their roots bringing in a long time NFL defensive coordinator, a pro-style offensive mind, and deep talent. And? Well, the jury is still out on what happened. But, regardless of the why, both teams turned in a 3-9 record. Ok. That's the past, right? Leach has had another year to implement his system. Auburn hires their supposed savior and anti-Saban. What happens? Well, Leach is still going to throw the ball 40 times. Malzahn will run the bubble screen to 5 different players. The difference is, Auburn's D will be good enough to make several 3-and-outs and the play calling and execution will be good enough to capitalize. The game won't be close at the end of the 3rd, but  the score at 0:00 will look like it was. The Auburn D has to come to life after lulling the crowd to sleep for most of the game and make a couple of crucial stops at the end of the game.
    45-28 Auburn..though 42-35 is a reality with a late WSU TD and Auburn kneeling

  • 09/07 – Arkansas State
  • Many may call this a trap game. Or a revenge game. Or just interesting simply because Gus left in such a hurry. Ryan Aplin is gone, but David Oku is back. Without too much fear of a passing attack, Oku will have to rush the ball 25 times into the teeth of Auburn's D-Line. That's about as far as he will go. I still see him gaining 100 yards and maybe a TD or 2. But, it will be in garbage time and the Tigers walk away with a solid win. Auburn raises some eyebrows across the nation by posting up 60+ points. Every running back on the team gets some carries. Grant has 5 carries but averages 25 yards per carry with some extremely long runs around the end. Mason has an equally impressive day, but doesn't really see a high work load. Artis-Payne smashes the Ark State defense in the mouth a few times, especially late. The real eye popping stat will be the numbers out of the QB. There will be more TDs than incomplete passes.
    63-21 Auburn

  • 09/14 – Mississippi State
  • Averaging over 50 points a game and breaking in to the Top 25,  the Tigers host the SEC Opener. It's hot. It's early. As an Auburn fan, we know how this usually goes for the Tigers. LaDarius Perkins will see a high work load in this game and will find success against the Auburn D who is trying to find their identity against both a physical offensive line and running back. Play action passes plague the Auburn secondary and this game is close LATE in the 4th quarter. Mason has a 100 yard game, but no long runs. Artis-Payne finishes some drives off for short TDs. Grant is kept in check after last weeks game. The passing game is ho-hum.  This game could go either way, but I see MSU taking a last second victory as revenge against the 2010 and 2011 games. To me, this game depends on what QB starts. More on that later.
    24-21 MSU

  • 09/21 – at LSU
  • No one will forget the high light game for the 2012 Tigers. This was the only game where Auburn showed up to play, and came away with a heart breaking loss. Almost all of the same players come back for a shot to shock the world in Death Valley. Fueled by last years close loss to LSU and last weeks identity forming loss at home to the Bulldogs, Auburn hits full stride behind a read option, quick screen, deep ball Malzhan barrage. The LSU defense never figures out where the plays are going and who they are going to. Every bit player on the team from Grant to Bray to Reed makes the most of their touches and sting the LSU defense. The Auburn defense shuts the door on a talented stable of LSU running backs forcing Mettinburger to beat them with the pass. The once woeful secondary comes up with game sealing picks after a bend-but-don't-break showing for most of the game.
    35-21 Auburn

  • 10/05 – Ole Miss
  • Some would say that the open date couldn't come at a better time while some could say the opposite. Most people would say that the Tigers would suffer a hangover from the party that took place down on the Bayou. The upstart Ole Miss Rebels, off a great season in 2012 and a solid recruiting campaign look to come in to Jordan-Hare and beat the Tigers for two straight season since....I don't even know. Having seen a fast attack-no huddle offense in their training camps and having Malzahn for a head coach, the defense stone walls the Rebs who show that they really aren't ready to lead the West quite yet. The Ole Miss defense keeps the game close thanks to a handful of returning defenders who are solid players and a good crop of recruits. A hard fought battle up front from the offensive line wins this game, surprisingly, as down hill running of CAP raises eyebrows. Artis-Payne totes  the rock 20 times for 100 yards and 2 TDs.
    28-7 Auburn

  • 10/12 – Western Carolina
  • Not much needs to be said for this game. I don't believe that any team is a walkover anymore, but the Catmounts have ZERO chance of winning this game. Last year, I wouldn't have said  that. Zero. The Auburn offense jumps back to the top of college football offenses. Malzahn calls the dogs off early.
    45-3 Auburn

    Story Lines:

    QBs: Again, not to harp on what everyone else has already said...but QB play will determine a lot of what happens this season. That sounds stupid just saying it. Of course it will. But, I go back to what I just said. Teh wins and losses for the first half would be the same. It's what happens next.

    RBs: I think this year will have a lot of similarities to 2009. All the focus after the first few games will be on the YPC for Grant. Mason will have deceiving numbers because he will have many catches out of the backfield and will be splitting time with CAP. He will still have some good stats and be on the way to his second 1,000 yard season. CAP, on the other hand, will be a dark horse that really doesn't see the light of day until late in the season. He still gets carries, but one good game aside, he will be limited to 5-10 carries a game with a YPC of around 4-5 yards.

    Recievers: Much talk has been made about these guys turning it around after being footnotes to Blake last year. I don't see them being much better. I think, ultimately, they CAN be very year. I don't think Reed will ever turn into the player we thought he would be. I think Bray has a very interesting season with screens, short routes, and wildcat touches. But, the deep ball will still be hit or miss. Early in the season, I see them having success.

    Defense: I think the front 7 play "ok" the first half of the season with a terrific showing against LSU and Ole Miss. I foresee the LB play still being inconsistent but hidden due to better than average play up front. The secondary still seems to be a glaring weakness. By the midpoint, I think they all make strides. But I think the upside of the D-Backs is very limited. The D-Line really has no upside. I think they can be as good as they want. Really, the same as LBs, though I think they are woefully behind on their development. The physicality of this unit will already start off higher than the previous years. I don't think we will see near the missed tackles, bad angles, and over all poor effort and fundamentals.

    Special Teams: I think the special teams will be flat outstanding this year. What will make or break them is the punt returner. It's been a joke from Auburn the last 10 years, it seems. I have faith that Quan Bray can emerge as a real threat.

    Breakout players:

    Justin Garrett has been penciled in as the highlight of the defense. To be honest,  in the last 2 years, only 1 player has consistently wowed me with hits and effort. That guy is Garret's back up Robenson Therezie. This guy has a high motor. He wants to hit. He has attitude. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see him find the field some how...either as the starting Star or at another position.

    Quan Bray is a guy who has to get the ball. He has outstanding size and physical ability, but last year he only seemed to get the ball in his hands at the wrong time. It always seemed to be well defended bubble screens. He returns as the 4th leading receiver, but that's deceptive. The Tigers couldn't throw last year. Only 1 receiver had more than 200 yards all year. He, and a host of others, had between 100-150 yards. Bray can throw. He can catch. He can run. He can return. I expect his all-purpose yards to be on up there.

    Everything starts up front. To be more specific, everything starts with the center. Dismukes had a year he wishes everyone would forget in 2012. He has a legitimate chance to take a call to the NFL this year if he plays outstanding. From all the talks, he is ready to show what he is capable of....a mean, physical, and reliable leader under center.

    The D-Line. Coming into 2012, all the talk was about the All-SEC D-Line Auburn had. Lemonier left for the NFL after dropping from a sure fire 1st rounder to a "somebody take this guy" draft pick. The effort across the board left much to be desired, though word is that coaching hurt them tremendously. It's hard to pick out a breakout player among them, especially since we don't really even know who will start. Wright, Blackson, Carter, Ford, Eguae, have all shown flashes and we have heard about their hard work. But we have heard it before. This front 4 has the ability to put the pressure on early and keep it on all day.

    Wrapping up: So, that puts Auburn at 4-2 heading into the buzz saw of the schedule. You notice that I didn't say anything about who is QB...etc. That's an interesting problem. There are 4 legitimate contenders, if you listen to the prognosticators. In my mind, there are only 2. It doesn't really affect the Wins and Losses column, but to whom the Ws and Ls go.

    Let me explain.

    If you have read my other thoughts on the QB race :
    A-Day Thoughts
    QB Questions

    You will see that I don't believe that Keihl Frazier has any chance to be a winning QB in the SEC. He was the #1 Player blah blah blah out of high school. But, have you read his high school scouting report? Struggles with accuracy. Well, anyone that watched any of his games is nodding their heads. He misses wide open receivers (see LSU last year). He is inaccurate with the bubble screen(I am still seeing it in practice vids!). Most importantly, he has no pocket presence.

    To me, the only two guys that will fight it out are Wallace and Marshall....and one of them isn't even on the campus yet. I keep hearing how Wallace isn't SEC caliber and doesn't have the tools. But, I thought the kid did a phenomenal job of not losing last year while the rest of  the team did all they could. Marshall, on the other hand, threw more INTs than TDs in JUCO. How is that even possible? Now, I tip my hat that Malzahn can transform pick happy QBs into efficient passers. Marshall can  certainly run the ball. I guess we will see.

    All of that being said, I think that either QB will be 4-2 at the midpoint of the season. The difference is, I see Marshall winning against MSU and losing against LSU. Why? his pure athleticism wins out against the Dawgs, but is no match for LSU. Wallace, on the other hand, plays efficiently and spreads the ball around. But, the rest of the team has an off day against MSU and plays lights out against LSU.

    Until Next Time!