(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
War Eagle, everybody! It's Christmas Eve-Eve, but not even the season can take our minds off our number one-ranked Auburn Tigers! Thus far, this year's Tiger performance on the football field has made for a yule-time season like no other. There's always football talk at Christmas parties, but most of us have never experienced it while being ranked at the top! Just think about that. It's been 53 long years since Auburn fans spent Christmas ranked number one!
The amount of vitriol from the other half of the state (East Mississippi/UAT) continues to surprise me, although perhaps it shouldn't. The last two Christmas seasons I've shook hands with red-shirted folks, complimented them on fine seasons, and wished them luck against Utah and Texas. I must admit, I've gotten a very few similar sentiments from Bama friends. From the mouths of most Bama folks though, it's been, "Y'all are cheaters!" "Death Penalty," and the ever-popular "Y'all are gonna suck next year!" OK, maybe I've brought a little bit of this on myself, since I ditched my usual green and red Christmas attire for an orange and blue theme this year. But seriously, folks:
If a merchant out there had been selling orange and blue AU-emblazoned Texas gear last year, he'd have gone broke. Makes me want to play them and whip their tails again! Hey guys, you didn't hear "Jailhouse Rock" on the Auburn P.A. Last season when Ingram was winning the Heisman. Get a clue!
Auburn will finish the season with one of their highest rankings ever, win or lose in Glendale. The Tigers have finished the season ranked in the AP top 5 only 7 times prior to this season. Those were in 1957 (1st), 1958 (4th), 1963 (5th), 1972 (5th), 1983 (3rd), 1993 (4th), and 2004 (2nd). Auburn won the SEC title only 3 times in those seven seasons. Auburn has been ranked in the final AP poll a total of 34 times in 74 years. This year will mark Auburn's 35th finish in the AP poll.
If I were a Tide fan, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Tigers to fail in 2011. Yes, Auburn loses a lot of seniors, and faces a more difficult schedule. However we'll get a lot of those champions back. These are guys who know how to win! Quite a few of our heralded freshmen this year spent the season on special teams or redshirted. Those who expect Auburn to be talent-poor next season are misinformed.
Make no mistake, the possible loss of the nation's best two players, Cameron Newton and Nick Fairley will be big. I think Nick Fairley has to think of his family and enter the NFL draft. I don't think another year will push his value any higher, and at defensive tackle, you're one chop-block away from ruin. Newton is a different story, however. I think he could use another year as a starting SEC quarterback. For much of the year, we used him as a Tebow-style battering ram with the occasional play-action pass. Had great success, but that's not really what NFL scouts look for. Only in the past few games has Cam really started developing as a passer. Those reads, releases and windows are what concern the pros. I think Cam could enormously help his draft stock with another year.
We'll lose Fairley, Antoine Carter, Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens out of the front seven, but the cupboard is hardly bare. There's a lot of young talent that should improve drastically with a year of Coach Yox's workouts. These guys include Jeffery Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Corey Lemonier, Craig Sanders, Jessel Curry, Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens. Eltoro Freeman and Darren Bates return, too. The secondary has help on the way including rising star Demetruce McNeal, and incoming freshman Jonathan Rose. Rose is said to be a dominating DB in the mold of Carlos Rogers.
I think everyone wonders what the offensive line will look like without Ziemba, Issom, Pugh and Berry. That foursome has been the rock through good, bad and ugly the past four whirlwind seasons. Here again, though, the idea that Auburn will have a bad O-line in 2011 is garbage. At tackle, we'll have a competition including Brandon Moseley, A. J. Green and John Sullen. There's a good bit of starting experience there, and all will be talented upperclassmen with good size and strength. The loser in that competition will probably take a starting guard slot. Center Blake Burgess draws rave reviews in the practice notes. I think we'll be better than folks think on the line next season.
Most of our skill position guys return, and we've got lots of 'em. We lose Kodi Burns, Terrell Zachary and Mario Fannin. There's leadership and ability lost there, but we've got guys like Trovon Reed, Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin who haven't really been used, yet. Darvin Adams may go pro, but I'd have to think he'd face a free-agent deal. There are a LOT of really good receivers coming out of college this year.
Even without Cameron Newton, the Auburn offense under Gus Malzhan will be successful. I've been impressed with what I've seen of Barrett Trotter. He hasn't had a bad series all season. He's played in six games, has no turnovers, a 13.6 yards per rush average, and has a healthy 7.1 yards per pass on 67 percent completions. Trotter has a great release on the ball.
It's Christmas time, folks! The hay's in the barn, and we Auburn fans will be in party mode for the next three weeks! I'll have to say, being ranked number one in the nation is the best Christmas present EVER!