Marshall: Lot to Like About 2005 Football Tigers

<b>QB Brandon Cox</b>

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes an early look at the 2005 Auburn football team.

A football program like Oklahoma's can dominate the Big 12. Southern California can dominate the Pac-10.

In the Southeastern Conference of today, that simply isn't going to happen. The goal of every SEC coach is to have his program in position to compete for a division championship every season and go from there.

As Tommy Tuberville heads into his seventh season, he has Auburn in position to do just that. Will that mean another 13-0 season? Probably not, but it's reasonable to believe the Tigers will be pitching for a trip back to Atlanta come November. The truth is that, since going 5-6 in Tuberville's first season, they've been pitching for a trip to Atlanta every November.

The fact is Auburn might be deeper in talent today than at any time in my memory, including Pat Dye's glory years of the 1980s. That does not mean all those players are ready to win in the SEC, but it does mean the ingredients are there.

There are reasons to believe Auburn could make another run at an SEC championship or even more, and there are reasons to believe 2005 could be something less than that.

Quentin Groves (54) and Stanley McClover (75) are having strong springs at defensive end.

Reasons to believe:

•Speed on defense. The Tigers have, without any doubt, the fastest defense ever to play for Auburn. Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Kevin Sears are the fastest group of linebackers in the SEC. The speed at defensive end, where Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves lead the way, is remarkable. Linebackers coach Joe Whitt says Groves would have superior speed for a linebacker, much less a defensive end.

•Power at the line of scrimmage. When a program has matured, you see it more up front than anywhere else. The Tigers have perhaps the best offensive lineman in the country in tackle Marcus McNeill. They have a future All-American in Leon Hart and big-time talent at every other position.

•Wide receivers. If any team has a more talented group than Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix, I haven't seen it. They have happily given up individual statistics for the good of the team.

•Leadership. Some of the stronger leaders ever to come through Auburn are gone. Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers, Jay Ratliff, Bret Eddins, Junior Rosegreen, Jeremy Ingle, Danny Lindsey and the rest of last season's senior class were extraordinarily strong. The thing about those kinds of leaders is they leave a legacy for those who come after them. There are plenty of strong leaders on this team, too.

•Depth. Auburn has more of it than any time in recent memory at almost every position.

Reasons to not believe:

•A rookie quarterback. Brandon Cox has uncanny accuracy. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said last year he was the most accurate passer he's ever been around. But, like every quarterback starting for the first time, Cox has a lot of things to experience for the first time. He will get better with every game and every season. Whether he will be good enough in 2005 remains to be seen.

•The secondary. The two best players from last season's secondary--Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen--are gone. Montae Pitts still has to show he can be the bellcow cornerback. Will Herring still has to show he can avoid the lapses that got him burned on occasion last season. David Irons, Lorenzo Ferguson, Eric Brock, Steve Gandy and others have more than enough talent to replace those who are departed, but they still have to show it on the field.

•The schedule. Despite all the hand-wringing about scheduling Western Kentucky, the 2005 schedule is much less favorable for winning a championship than the 2004 schedule was. The Tigers must travel to LSU, to Georgia and to Arkansas. Coming out of those three without at least one loss will be quite a challenge. The opener against Georgia Tech could be testy, too.

Don't expect to learn a lot about this team in Saturday's A-Day game. It'll be mostly a showcase for younger players. Even the healthy veterans aren't likely to play a lot.

The 2005 Tigers will be good. They have a chance to be great.

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