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CBS Sports analyst Rick Neuheisel: Auburn has “championship equation” in place

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn's defensive coordinator Will Muschamp screams at a player during an NCAA college football practice, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn's defensive coordinator Will Muschamp screams at a player during an NCAA college football practice, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

CBS Sports held a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon to preview its coverage of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Saturday at the Georgia Dome between No. 6 Auburn and No. 25 Louisville.

The network’s lead college football announce team Verne Lundquist, and Gary Danielson, who are assigned to Saturday’s game, were joined by new studio analyst Rick Neuheisel on the call.

Producers called this a “milestone season” as CBS enters into its 20th year in partnership with the SEC while Lundquist and Danielson are celebrating their 10th season together as partners.

“I continue to believe he is the best at what he does in all of football,” Lundquist said, of his broadcasting partner.

Danielson returned the compliment calling Lundquist, a play-by-play man in his fifth decade on air, a “national treasure.”

In previewing Saturday’s matchup, Danielson and Neuheisel agreed that Auburn has the makings of a championship contender.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that when Auburn looks in mirror they see themselves as a contender for the national championship,” Danielson said.

Danielson said the schedule sets up favorably for the Tigers with games against Georgia and Alabama at home this season.

“They ran out of gas last year,” Danielson said. “I just think they feel confident they have answers on defense with an experienced defensive coordinator, and they know they are going to score points.”

Neuheisel a former head coach at UCLA and Washington, doesn’t think it will take first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp long to turn around Auburn’s defense.

“You know Will Muschamp at Florida had three top 10 defenses, and his worst defense there in his four years as head coach was 15th in the country,” Neuheisel said. “Add that to the fact you get Carl Lawson back from a knee injury, Montravius Adams up front, a good-looking secondary. I think he has the pieces to put together a really good defensive team.”

The question mark Neuheisel sees hanging over the Tigers is actually on the offensive side of the ball, and quarterback Jeremy Johnson.

Neuheisel likes Johnson’s ability as a drop-back passer, but is curious to see how he fits in with coach Gus Malzahn’s run schemes.

Johnson doesn’t have to put up running like numbers like former quarterback Nick Marshall, but Neuheisel said the junior has to make opposing defenses game plan for his legs.

“What has to get proven here, is if Jeremy Johnson as the signal caller of this team has the equipment to still have the running game; he’s got to be enough of a run threat in Gus Malzahn’s scheme that they (opposing defenses) have to honor him to give the running game a chance to get started,” Neuheisel said. “If that happens, Auburn is going to be a really, really good.”

The analysts also touched on Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, and the team’s quarterback situation.

Neuheisel acknowledged that Petrino’s history with Auburn, and the Georgia Dome should provide an “interesting backdrop” for the season-opener, but is likely to have little effect on the game itself.

They downplayed the uncertainty over the Cardinals’ quarterback competition with Danielson going as far as saying the, “quarterback position is not going to decide the football game.”

“Auburn is one of the most difficult teams to for a secondary to lineup correctly, get their fits and angles, I see the game being decided in two areas -- the secondary for Louisville, and the offensive line for Louisville,” Danielson said. “They can’t get dominated in this game.”

Neuheisel chalked the secrecy over the depth chart to gamesmanship.

“You want to make sure that you are making Will Muschamp scratch his head as much as you can in anticipation of the game,” Neuheisel said.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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