The Malik Jackson story I linked to in this morning’s buffet got me to thinking about it, but this statement from Barrett Sallee’s 2011 SEC predictions - “Auburn’s schedule is tough; but don’t be surprised to see the Tigers spring and upset or two as the young players develop” – absolutely had me reaching for my Phil Steele’s Preview.
Steele compiles an experience chart which grades teams on returning seniors in the two deep, returning lettermen, returning yards and tackles and returning offensive line starts. And while you don’t want to read too much into it (Vanderbilt is the SEC’s most experienced team, according to Steele, but I don’t think anyone’s predicting an SEC East title is in the cards for Vandy this season), I don’t think you can brush it aside completely, either.
Per Steele, Auburn is the least experienced team in all of D-1 this season.
In the conference, it’s not even a close call. Auburn has fewer returning senior starters than any other SEC school, the lowest percentage of returning lettermen, the second lowest percentage of returning yards (good luck, Kentucky) and the lowest percentage of returning tackles. Oh, and the Tigers’ offensive line boasts a total of 15 career starts (the second lowest is Florida’s 29; Alabama’s line returns 90 career starts).
I know Malzahn’s a terrific coach – as Barrett notes, if he can make a functional quarterback out of Chris Todd, he’ll make something out of Auburn’s group this season – and I know Auburn has recruited well these past two seasons, but still, it’s not like the SEC isn’t chock full of terrific coaches and great recruiting classes. That’s a helluva hole Chizik finds himself trying to dig out of this season, especially when you consider it’s not just wide but deep with the departures of Newton and Fairley.