No one knows at this point exactly how Auburn's 2009 season will play out, but here are five things that could spell success for Gene Chizik's crew this season.
5. Favorable early-season schedule – Auburn begins the 2009 season with a legitimate chance to be 4-0. Louisiana Tech – albeit on the rise with Derek Dooley at the helm – is still Louisiana Tech. Mississippi State will be adjusting to life in the Dan Mullin era. West Virginia and Ball State will be working without star quarterbacks Pat White and Nate Davis, respectively. Even better, each game is at home, giving new head coach Gene Chizik a chance to get his sea legs in the calm waters. Presumably, that is, unless Tech finds a way to recapture the magic of their 2008 opener.
4. A spread that will work, eventually – Last year’s spread-in-a-box offense peddled by Tony Franklin was a disaster from the get-go, disregarding Brandon Cox’s performance in the 2007 Peach Bowl. The haphazard way it was implemented, combined with the disdain the rest Tommy Tuberville’s staff had for it and its creator, led not just to Franklin’s demise, but ultimately Tuberville’s as well. This go around should yield a better result, as evidenced by new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s recent success at both Arkansas and Tulsa. With Chizik’s full support behind the system (something that bedeviled Malzahn at Arkansas), chances are Auburn’s new offense will stick around past the midway point of the season.
3. Lane Kiffin – There are two things working in Gene Chizik’s favor right now, time and Lane Kiffin. Time has eroded away the impact of that airport video and the various newspaper columns that questioned the reasoning behind Auburn’s hire. And Lane Kiffin, with his staff’s wacky, shirtless antics, has all but claimed the “worst hire in SEC history” mantle for himself. All that, coupled with Auburn’s legit 4-0 shot, should keep the acid levels low for a once-beleaguered Coach Chiz.
2. Barrett Trotter’s ACL tear – Sure Barrett Trotter was in the thick of the starting quarterback mix, and of course no one wants to see a player suffer a season-ending injury. But chances are a year on the sidelines will do the Tigers’ quarterback-of-the-future a lot of good. First, ACL tears are not at all career threatening. Second, Trotter now gets an opportunity to wade gently into Auburn’s new offensive system, rather than being thrown into the deep end as a freshman. Let the more experienced Neil Caudle take the reins this season, all the while praying he avoids the injury bug.
1. Change is good – Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Tuberville’s firing and Chizik’s hiring, a change of leadership will likely breathe some fresh air into the Auburn program. Ten years at one institution is an eon; and no matter how successful a coach has been in the past, a change after ten years is defensible in this day and age. A new, young coach will have a recruiting advantage. A new offensive system will allow the team to reinvent itself in time to keep up with the Urban Meyers and Kyle Whittinghams of the world. Will Chizik be as successful as the previous administration? No one knows for sure. But at least fans will give him and his system the benefit of the doubt – a luxury that Tommy Tuberville was no longer afforded.