March 10, 2014
A year ago, as Auburn’s football team prepared to start Gus Malzahn’s first spring practice as head coach, there were far more questions than answers. The Tigers were three months removed from their worst season in 60 years and Malzahn had barely been three months on the job.
The talk at quarterback was of junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Nick Marshall was still in junior college and Jeremy Johnson was still in high school. The offensive and defensive lines were filled with uncertainty. There was not a position without questions.
There were new offensive and defensive schemes to be installed and a new coaching staff to do the installing. Players talked about a change of attitude in the offseason program, but the collapse in the second half of the 2012 season was still fresh in everyone’s memory.
Players talked about winning a championship, but players always talk about winning championships. The widespread belief was that the 2013 Auburn football team would be doing well to get to a bowl game.
We all know what happened next.
The Tigers went 12-2, won the Southeastern Conference championship and came within 13 seconds of winning the national championship. They equaled the greatest turnaround in college football history and finished ranked No. 2 nationally. Malzahn won a trophy case full of Coach of the Year awards.
Running back Tre Mason had the most prolific season in Auburn history behind an offensive line that went from below average to great and bulldozing fullback Jay Prosch. Marshall arrived in the summer, won the starting job and grew into a championship quarterback who was at his best when it mattered most. Dee Ford blossomed into a potential first-round draft choice at defensive end and Chris Davis was a shutdown cornerback. A dozen defensive linemen played in virtually every game.
And just like that, Auburn football was great again.
Things will be very different when Auburn begins another spring practice next Tuesday. The 2014 Tigers will likely be ranked in the top five in the preseason polls. Marshall is back and will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Wide receiver Sammie Coates, center Reese Dismukes, guard Alex Kozan, tight end C.J. Uzomah, defensive end Carl Lawson, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, defensive tackle Gabe Wright, defensive tackle Montravius Adams, cornerback Jonathon Mincy and safety Jermaine Whitehead are potential all-stars. And others could be, too.
There’ll be some fascinating storylines:
* D’haquille Williams, the nation’s top junior college prospect, has overwhelming talent. He’ll have his first opportunity to show it.
* Who will replace Tre Mason at tailback? Senior Cameron Artis-Payne? Junior Corey Grant? Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber?
* Sophomore Shon Coleman and junior Pat Miller will compete for the left tackle job vacated by Robinson. The mission will be to get the best five offensive linemen on the field.
* Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, his knee repaired and fully healthy for the first time since his freshman year, is back for his fifth season after sitting out last season. Can he make the impact that was predicted of him out of high school?
* Can Coates go from being very good to being great? He was on the verge last season. Ricardo Louis has that kind of talent, too.
* What about senior Trovon Reed? He’ll apparently get a look at cornerback. Lots of people recruited him out of high school to play cornerback. Is it too late?
* Who will replace Prosch, whose value to the nation’s top rushing offense immense? Who will punt and who will kick?
There will be plenty of other stories as the spring unfolds. Then it will be on to summer and, soon enough, the sound and fury of another football season will be upon us.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: