His defense was subpar in 2011, so he brought in Falcons (and former Georgia) defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to shore things up. His offensive line lost some veterans — a suspension of center Reese Dismukes will not help — so the season opener against Clemson will feature two tackles who have never started a collegiate game. (Good luck blocking Malliciah Goodman, fellas.)
But the decision garnering the most fanfare has been at the quarterback position, where first-year starter Kiehl Frazier will take the reins and immediately invoke comparisons to 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton. He’s big, he can run, he can throw . . . and that’s all people need to know to start grasping for straws.
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Odds are he will have a rockier first season with Auburn than Newton, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney does not expect him to back down.
“He’s not gonna be overwhelmed. He’s been in big games, I know he’s coming out of a tough quarterback battle, and he won the job,” Swinney said in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff teleconference Tuesday.
Frazier was named the National Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today in high school, and he flashed signs of brilliance in 2011 — even in the presence of cows holding up grammatically incorrect signs. The sophomore’s best game last season came in the Chick-fil-A Bowl where he rushed for 55 yards and two scores against ACC opponent Virginia.
Now, following a position battle with junior Clint Moseley, he will be expected to rise to the occasion again. This time, he has an entire season ahead of him.
“Our evaluation [in the spring and summer] was solely on the quarterback play,” Chizik said. “You have to take into consideration that you have a lot of young guys on the offensive line. But we evaluated each guy, and it wasn’t just what happened in training camp . . . We were very thorough.”
“We feel very comfortable with it. He feels great about it, I think our team feels great about it.”
Auburn enters the game outside the preseason AP poll. Clemson comes in at No. 14, but will be missing its top player, Sammy Watkins, due to suspension.
Chizik acknowledged the game will be a stepping stone, not the end-all, no matter which brand of Tiger leaves the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with a win.
“If we win it doesn’t mean we’re a good team, if we lose it doesn’t mean we’re a bad team.”
The former of the two sure would go a long way for his young quarterback’s confidence, though.