By Jay Coulter
Good Monday morning to you. It's great to be back after spending a week on the Florida Gulf Coast. I'm rejuvenated and ready to shift into regular season mode here at Track'em Tigers.
When SEC Media Days concludes at the end of this week in Birmingham, look for conference beat writers to make Auburn the odds on favorite in the SEC West. LSU should be second now that quarterback Ryan Periloux has exited stage left.
Many that follow Auburn closely have pointed to 2008 for a long time. Auburn is deeper than it has ever been, the schedule is more favorable (I know, it almost sounds stupid to say it that way) and most importantly, the Tigers return a lot of experience at the marquee positions on both sides of the ball.
Despite all the positives, there are glaring question marks. Will Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads be able to pickup where Will Muschamp left off? How will the defense adjust to playing a mostly 4-3 front?
Give Rhoads credit. He managed to put his stamp on the defense during the spring while keeping things simple enough so the players can react first and think second. There's little doubt Rhoads was the best coordinator available for hire. But no mater how good you are, it takes time for a defense to get comfortable with new schemes. Rhoads is a master teacher. Fall practice will be interesting.
Is the Spread Offense the Way to Go?
The question I've been asked most during the off-season is what do I think about the spread? After listening to offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in the off-season, I feel much better. Franklin has been out front about his intentions to run the ball often. I sense that many Auburn fans have their doubts.
It's imperative that Brad Lester, Ben Tate and Tristan Davis not go to waste. I can't imagine Tommy Tuberville letting that happen. And Franklin is much too smart to allow it. With a new quarterback, look for the backs to get plenty of carries, especially early in the year. Look for Lester and Tate to put up more than 1,500 yards on the ground.
Most exciting offensively are the returning receivers. This year's group will have every opportunity to surpass what Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor and Devin Aromashodu accomplished a few years ago.
Look for Rod Smith to be the go-to guy once again. But this year he should have more help. Robert Dunn, James Swinton, Montez Billings and Tim Hawthorne should all be much improved. If two of them aren't named all conference at the end of the year, I'll be shocked.
Coach Dye has questioned whether the spread offense can be successful in a physical conference like the SEC. Florida has proven that it can by running a variation of it the past two years. We should all be cautiously optimistic that it can succeed at Auburn. Besides, anything is better than what we had last year.
So Who Starts at Quarterback?
All of this leads to the biggest question mark of all. Who will start at quarterback and will they be successful running the Spread?
If you look at the history books, they will tell you that first year starting quarterbacks typically struggle in the league. There are exceptions - see Tee Martin and Tim Tebow. The question is does Kodi Burns or Chris Todd have that kind of talent? Probably not, but that doesn't mean they can't win.
Everyone has been fixated on who's going to start against Louisiana-Monroe. Truthfully, it probably doesn't matter. Franklin will name a starter for the first game - he has no choice. But if you are looking for the starter to be named in early August and written in non-erasable ink, you are probably going to be disappointed.
My guess is that Burns will be named the starter. Based on his play in the spring, I think he's the better quarterback at this point. But don't be surprised to see Todd come into the game on the second or third series. Don't be surprised if this goes on for several weeks - or months.
Franklin says he's not concerned with playing more than one quarterback. We need to get used to it now. It's going to be hard. I still have nightmares about that 1985 season. Remember that faithful trip to Knoxville?
It's just a guess, but I believe that Burns will distinguish himself before the season is out and solidify the starting spot. But it could be painful getting there.
Let the speculation begin. We are two weeks away from fall practice and only 40 days from kickoff. Our time is near.