SEC football media days preview: Top five questions for Auburn Tigers

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 20, 2011 

AUBURN, Ala. -- The SEC football media days begin in Hoover this morning, the biggest event of the summer for college football fans, which isn’t too bold of a statement.

So much will be said the next three days, yet so little of it matters.

Although it’s the unofficial start of the football season, it’s still another week and a half before players report for practice. Coaches, speaking generally about their players, haven’t seen them on the practice field since April, leaving you to wonder just how much of what they are saying is the most up-to-date information.

It’s an event, nonetheless. SEC fans love their football, and there is no time on the sporting calendar more void of actual football news than the summer -- NCAA investigations not included.

Nevertheless, here are five Auburn-related questions that might be answered at media days:

1. How does Auburn feel about being underdogs?

The national champion shine doesn’t last long in the SEC, not when four to five other teams are ready to be next in line in the conference’s championship run.

The Tigers might be getting the least repeat national title talk of any champion in recent memory, but it’s not without justifiable cause.

Auburn lost 16 starters from last season’s Bowl Championship Series title-winning team, including Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley. Add the loss of 20-plus seniors, several other players who were kicked off the team for their alleged involvement in an armed robbery last winter and the usual offseason attrition and the Tigers have more than 30 lettermen to replace.

There is a good chance Auburn doesn’t get picked in the top four in its division, with Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and even Mississippi State getting plenty of preseason attention. This will be the Tigers’ first chance to directly respond to any such slight.

2. Will there be any surprises on the roster?

Two signees are still waiting to be cleared academically: safety Anthony Swain and running back Tre Mason. The NCAA Clearinghouse occasionally goes right up until the eve of August practice, sometimes longer, before deciding all the eligibility cases.

The bigger question, and one that likely won’t have an answer yet, is the status of running back Mike Blakely, a transfer from Florida this offseason who is seeking immediate eligibility.

He signed with the Gators and enrolled early, receiving financial aid, but he didn’t participate in spring drills, leaving a sliver of hope for Auburn that he can play in 2011.

Rumors have persisted that H-back Eric Smith might return to the team after his dismissal last winter following an arrest for third-degree domestic violence, but coach Gene Chizik hasn’t indicated that is the case. This week could provide clarification.

3. Will Chizik say anything about his exchange with an NCAA enforcement official at the SEC spring meetings?

This is not a mystery: He will not.

Chizik has remained relatively mum on the subject of any investigation into Newton’s recruitment and likely will not shift course in a room full of 900 reporters.

Still, he will be asked.

And, his policy of not commenting on the issue notwithstanding, it would be a perfect time to at the very least reiterate what he has said on several occasions to local media and definitively in his recent book -- that he believes Auburn did nothing wrong in its recruitment of Newton.

Granted, answering one question would open the door for several, which means it likely won’t happen.

4. Who will earn All-SEC recognition from the media?

The SEC has two preseason teams, giving Auburn a chance. Its best options are running back Mike Dyer and offensive tackle Brandon Mosley, who were selected to the coaches’ preseason All-SEC second team.

Dyer is the Tigers’ best shot at making the first team, although with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Arkansas’ Knile Davis, it’s a stacked field.

Wide receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen have legitimate shots at making the second team.

5. Who will be tabbed as potential breakout players?

Media days are usually the best time to get an idea of breakout candidates -- not from the coaches, who have limited contact with their players in the summer, but by the three player representatives each teams sends who work out with their teammates daily.

Auburn is sending Blake, Lutzenkirchen and defensive end Nosa Eguae, three players who handle themselves well in media settings and surely will have some names ready.

The leading candidates are probably defensive end Corey Lemonier and wide receiver Trovon Reed, although plenty more are sure to be mentioned.

Lemonier, a sophomore, came on near the end of last year as a backup to Antoine Carter at rush end, earning SEC All-Freshman.

Reed, an impact wide receiver/punt returner, played two snaps before a nagging knee injury cost him the season.

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