OT Marcus McNeill

2004 Statistics

Coach: Tommy Tuberville
51-24, 6 years
2004 Record: 13-0
at Mississippi State WON 43-14
at Tennessee WON 34-10
at Mississippi WON 35-14
at Alabama WON 21-13

vs. Tennessee
WON 38-28
vs. Virginia Tech WON 16-13

2004 Final Rankings
AP-2, Coaches-2, BCS-3

2005 Outlook

While it was a travesty that the 13-0 SEC champions (with the toughest schedule - SOS - of the BCS teams) never had a shot at a national championship, Coach Tuberville, like he did with 2003's disappointing start (0-2) as they headed into the last campaign, will use their Orange Bowl exclusion as motivation for 2005. He acknowledged that they will never repeat that season (even if they go undefeated) so why make comparisons? It's unlikely everything will fall into place as it did when that Tigers squad avoided the injury bug and any other distraction. That, and inexperience at key skill positions, makes a return to the top a tough mountain, though not unclimbable.

Depth could actually be improved because there were few personnel losses; however, those that did graduate were as critical as any departees in America. No one can compensate for the losses of Brown and Williams. Without the ability to dictate the clock on the ground, Tiger faithful are at the mercy of an inexperienced QB for offensive continuity. While the offense purred under the veteran Campbell, how (im)balanced will the attack be in the hands of Cox and a makeshift backfield? Scoring will be down and that means more close games (after the Tigers had more 18+ point victories than anyone in D-I). When Cox eventually executes as Campbell did under pressure, the defense is good enough to get the win. However, name the last first-year SEC QB that went through a season without one or two miserable games? After winning 18 consecutive times when scoring first, Auburn must continue to jump on opponents so the defense can attack.

Look for aggressive play calling early, even trick plays on opening drives, to see if the Tigers can put up points without asking too much of Cox. This will, least of all, keep opponents honest and flat-footed while Cox matriculates into their more conservative offensive schemes. The dangerous opener with Georgia Tech (as 2003's opening losses to USC and Tech did) will tell much about this season. A win and Auburn gains confidence, for the schedule builds in difficulty from there. A loss and finger-pointing at Cox & Co. would affect the (budding) team chemistry which was so necessary during their perfect season. Nine wins is reasonable; plus, the less Tiger faithful expect, they more they seem to get out of Tuberville, who has suddenly become a beloved figure on the plains. Starting them at 11th (NationalChamps.net's 2004 ranking for AU) did them wonders, and with the Tigers at 10th this time, looking up at the spots they intend to climb will again light a fire there in Jordan Hare.

Projected 2005 record: 9-2
QB - 2.5 DL - 4
RB - 3.5 LB - 5
WR - 4.5 DB - 3.5
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Brandon Cox, 34-22-2, 357 yds.,4 TD

Rushing: Carl Stewart, 39 att., 184 yds., 2 TD

Receiving: Courtney Taylor, 43 rec., 737 yds., 6 TD

Scoring: John Vaughn, 12-15, 51-52 PAT, 87 pts.

Punting: Kody Bliss, 47 punts, 42.3 avg.

Kicking: Kody Bliss, 47 punts, 42.3 avg.

Tackles: Travis Williams, 80 tot., 58 solo

Sacks: Stanley McClover, Quentin Groves, 7.5 each

Interceptions: Will Herring, 3 for -2 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Devin Aromashodu, 3 ret., 28.3 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Lee Guess, 4 ret., 15.8 avg., 0 TD


DE Stanley McClover
OFFENSE: Jason Campbell-QB, Carnell Williams-TB, Ronnie Brown-TB, Jeremy Ingle-C, Danny Lindsey-OG
DEFENSE: Bret Eddins-DE, Jay Ratliff-DT, Doug Langenfeld-DE, Carlos Rogers-CB, Junior Rosegreen-S

Replacing the SEC's most efficient passer is RS sophomore Brandon Cox. The southpaw's pinpoint accuracy earned him 2004 spring game MVP honors and then early-season playing time. Solid showings against non-conference cupcakes proved Cox has talent (180.0 rating), and he will run the offense under pressure after watching the big games from the sidelines. Based on his strong line and deep receiving core, Cox will make a smooth transition, assuming he doesn't try to match Campbell's Heisman-caliber season. The most accurate passer in Alabama prep history (69% career) must master the play-action and take the safe pass in this "Southern-fried West Coast" offense, knowing the Tigers don't have to dominate to win. Cox won't elude the rush like the now-gone Campbell, but he will protect the ball, meaning the offense's training wheels will assuredly be off by mid-season. If Cox goes down, expect panic: there is zero game experience behind him. Even though, strong-armed Calvin Booker has the raw talent to win the back-up job and push to start by mid-season. This bodes well, but (post) spring developments will tell more about this unit overall.

Running Back
Al Borges has been hailed for successfully balancing a two-back attack (Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown) and similar rotations will again be needed. But this is only because there's no clear-cut feature back at this time. Sophomore Carl Stewart reminds Tiger faithful of Brown with his combination of size and elusiveness. In limited duty, Stewart showed potential as a multi-dimensional threat. Senior Tre Smith adds big game experience, dating back to his legendary Iron Bowl as a freshman. With a healed shoulder and no longer behind two all-Americans, expect the hard-working Smith to break out, especially in the red-zone, despite being a bit undersized. Speedy unknowns Kenny Irons and Brad Lester have big upsides and with impressive springs, either could emerge as a starter. (The veteran Irons holds an edge right now.) Proven FB Jake Slaughter will be relied on more often to open holes for whoever's back there.

As deep and veteran a receiving corps as there is in the SEC, these four playmakers will keep the passing game clicking, regardless of Cox's inexperience. Junior Courtney Taylor went from consistent freshman to sophomore game-breaker, leading the Tigers in catches and yards. Taylor bulked up without sacrificing speed or leaping ability, making him a potent target (as he proved against LSU) who always holds on to the big catch (30 of his 38 recs. went for first down). A heralded trio of seniors (Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix) combined for 13 TDs and are each capable of 20+recs, 500+yd seasons. Aromashodu is the burner (22.1ypc) who stretches any defense. Obomanu's seven TDs led the SEC while Mix's precise route-running and 6'5" frame make him a valuable target underneath. Someone will always be open in four-wide sets. Still, the group must maintain focus as Cox adjusts and their numbers dip slightly.

Offensive Line
The core of a great offensive line returns to continue its steady improvement. After allowing only 10 sacks through the first half of the season, the line dominated in the second half by allowing a mere four sacks while opening huge holes for the highest scoring and most-balanced attack in the South. Senior tackles Marcus McNeil and Troy Reddick form the line's strength, and along with LG Ben Grubbs, the three started every game during the Tigers' perfect '04 run. McNeil's up from 322 to 340lbs, and at 6'9", no opposing end can push around this all-America (2005 NC.net first-team). His dominance could move highly recruited sophomore Leon Hart to center, yet that job likely belongs to experienced fifth-year senior Steven Ross. The big surprise could be converted NG Tim Duckworth who has wowed coaches at guard. The line is huge and two-deep at every position.

Tight End
Cooper Wallace is a shoe-in for preseason all-SEC. The senior has the footwork and strength to block laterally, as well as the speed to drag LBs and safeties deep over the middle a few times a game for big gainers (15.9 yds per catch). As the Tigers run many sets and formations, this position's versatility looks complete.

The offense won't lead the SEC in scoring again, but they won't be pushed around either. Borges is a savvy coordinator and will simplify the offense for Cox, who'll benefit from a huge pocket and playmakers at WR. Still, defenses won't have to load up against the run until that dimension is proven, so Cox's ability to make reads and check downs will determine the Tigers' (both initial and overall) success. The short passing game will take advantage of the lefty's accuracy and touch; however, his lack of arm-strength means fewer deep shots. Until a go-to back is established, which won't take long, field-position will be almost as precious as points for this rather conservative offense.


WR Courtney Taylor


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Brandon Cox-So (6-2, 202) Calvin Booker-Fr (6-4, 238)
FB Jake Slaughter-Sr (6-2, 241) Mike McLaughin-Fr (6-1, 230)
TB Tre Smith-Jr (5-10, 199) Kenny Irons-Jr (5-11, 202)
Carl Stewart-So (6-1, 207)
WR Devin Aromashodu-Sr (6-2, 202) Ben Obomanu-Sr (6-1, 198)
WR Courtney Taylor-Jr (6-2, 204) Anthony Mix-Sr (6-5, 248)
TE Cooper Wallace-Sr (6-4, 265) Cole Bennett-Jr (6-5, 256)
OT Marcus McNeill-Sr (6-9, 337) King Dunlap-So (6-8, 292)
OG Ben Grubbs-Jr (6-3, 302) Jonathan Palmer-Jr (6-5, 319)
C Steven Ross-Sr (6-6, 292) Joe Cope-Jr (6-0, 276)
OG Tim Duckworth-Jr (6-3, 326) Leon Hart-So (6-5, 302)
OT Troy Reddick-Sr (6-5, 335) Antwoin Daniels-Fr (6-6, 298)
K John Vaughn-Jr (6-1, 201) ..



Defensive Line
As on offense, Auburn will win the lion's share of the trench battles. Sophomore ends Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves form a vicious pair, having both finished among the SEC's sack-leaders (7.5 sacks each) while receiving freshman all-America honors. McClover, a 2005 NC.net third-team all-American, changes momentum well (SEC leading four forced fumbles), while the speed of Groves and junior Marquies Gunn will force teams to bag seven-step drops again in favor of quick hitters and misdirection. In the red-zone, this group will be downright nasty, thanks to depth on the interior. Senior DT T.J. Jackson leads a group that averages almost 300lbs and plugs holes so well that only one RB in '04 found pay-dirt in the regular season. Wayne Dickens has limited starting experience but has played in every game since redshirting as a freshman, so expect him to bust-out as Jackson did. Despite how high the bar's been raised, there will be no letdown with this unit.

Tiger fans dreaded the departure of its all-world linebacking duo a year ago, only to find out that it was a much deeper group than expected. With all juniors and seniors leading the depth chart, this looks to be as good a group as any in the nation. Senior Travis Williams (NC.net second-team all-American) causes havoc in many ways, and his ferocious tackling (team high 80) sets the tone for an intimidating bunch. Travis, along with fellow-Williams Antarrious, disproved their reputations as speedy but undersized defenders by routinely taking on lineman and showing remarkable strength. Watch how junior SLB Kevin Sears will be pushed by Karibi Dede all season, and either is an excellent run-stopper, so this is good news. The dynamic of the unit is safety-like speed and cover skills, and, combined with hard-nosed hitting, this makes finding weaknesses almost impossible. And when top-recruit Tray Blackmon develops quickly, watch out.

Defensive Back
The only defensive unit that suffers major losses to graduation won't sound the alarm just yet. Junior FS Will Herring has started 24 straight and has developed into the "quarterback" of the secondary. Second on the team in tackles and INTs, Herring plays mistake-free and will relax the strain on sophomore SS Tony Bell as he continues to learn the position. A former linebacker, Bell is the hardest-hitting DB, and we predict his work-ethic wins him the job this spring. The biggest improvement will come from junior CB David Irons, who may be the fastest Tiger on the field. Montavius Pitts is a cause for greater concern after getting picked on repeatedly as teams avoided Thorpe-winner Carlos Rogers. That trying sophomore baptismal will only make him better (if he's a good DB, he'll have to have no long-term memory), but he's still not yet a shut-down corner. RS freshman FS Steve Gandy could be the biggest surprise on a thin but talented group that won't be exposed often thanks to a dominating seven up front. The deep ball early should be any opponent's goal.

What can the nation's best scoring defense (at a preposterous 11.3ppg) do for an encore? Few people realized how dominant the '04 edition could be, so subdued expectations in '05 should reinvigorate that intensity level. The only major holes are in the secondary, so - fittingly - Coach Tuberville brought in ex-Denver Broncos' secondary coach David Gibbs as the new defensive coordinator. The Tigers have all the athletes to continue to blitz and attack opposing backfields; still, expect a few more blown coverages as the youngsters gel. The speed is there to play man-coverage, and with the experience at linebacker, Gibbs can implement more complex, NFL-type schemes. The defense remains the heart and soul and will win the Tigers more than a few close games.


LB Travis Williams


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Quinten Groves-So (6-3, 245) Marquies Gunn-Jr (6-4, 238)
NG Tommy Jackson-Sr (6-1, 305) Josh Thompson-So (6-1, 301)
DT Wayne Dickens-Sr (6-1, 303) Neil Brown-So (6-2, 264)
DE Stanley McClover-So (6-3, 247) Chris Browder-Jr (6-5, 247)
SLB Kevin Sears-Jr (6-4, 247) Karibi Dede-Jr (6-1, 216)
MLB Travis Williams-Sr (6-1, 207) Chris Evans-Fr (6-0, 221)
WLB Antarrious Williams-Sr (5-11, 206) Merrill Johnson-Fr (6-1, 201)
CB David Irons-Sr (6-1, 189) Kevin Hobbs-Sr (6-0, 192)
CB Montavis Pitts-Jr (6-3, 206) Lorenzo Ferguson-Fr (6-1, 206)
SS Eric Brock-So (6-1, 212) Steve Gandy-Fr (6-1, 202)
FS Will Herring-Jr (6-4, 215) Tony Bell-So (6-2, 218)
P Kody Bliss-Jr (5-11, 177) ..




Though Auburn's SEC-record PAT streak fell, the Tigers did find a kicker in John Vaughn. Vaughn gives them consistency. He'll be one of the top three kickers in the SEC. Freshman Zach Kutch however, should be broken in via kick-off duties.

As rarely as junior Kody Bliss was called on to punt, he made the most of his opportunities with a 42.3avg, including a booming 61-yarder. His placement will be even better as a senior.

Return Game
The Tigers will miss Cadillac Williams on special teams as well. Devin Aromshodu only had three returns all season but the speedster averaged 28.3yds per and has all the makings of a dangerous return man. Tre Smith has experience returning punts, but also a low career average. The job is open for junior Lee Guess and others. Kickoff coverage was again abysmal; coaches need to find guys who want to hustle.


Brandon Cox spent this spring learning to handle an intense pass rush - he was up against a well-stocked Tiger defense. Thus, Cox never had a spring scrimmage that showed huge stats or a long TD pass, something Jason Campbell did in every/any game. The lackluster spring passing numbers are likely why Auburn is sitting so low in the preseason polls as voters were waiting to see how Cox is progressing. He has shown an improved arm and has better zip, but perhaps his biggest gain came in reading defenses. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has said that Cox was the most accurate passer he's ever been around. Not bad for a rookie, so he just needs more protection. Calvin Booker won the backup spot due to a better knowledge of the offense. Neither he nor Blake Field appears ready to push Cox and both have a long way to go to be ready for SEC play.

The team's most experienced back, Tre Smith, won the starting job. He has been a workhorse in practice. Kenny Irons has shown explosiveness while managing some long gainers, and he has won the Tiger's off-season conditioning award. Carl Stewart was named the team's most improved offensive skill player this spring and will be used as both a tailback and hybrid fullback. Each RB "excels" in different areas, but none has resembled (the departed) Brown and Williams. Although Smith currently holds the top spot, the competition is very close. Look for some sort of rotation to develop.

Michael McLaughlin was one of the team's most improved players in the spring.

Def. Coordinator David Gibbs has stated that the 6-2, 204 Courtney Taylor made defensive backs look like kids trying to tackle a professional; he was that physical after he caught passes. This is one of the most talented sets of WRs in the country, and they are very unselfish. Taylor's disposition bodes well for downfield blocking assignments.

Stanley McClover finished spring with 10 sacks in four scrimmages, a sign of things to come. Quentin Groves was honored as the team's most improved defensive lineman and recorded nine sacks, the same sign of those things to come. Needless to say - beware, SEC QBs, of what Brandon Cox witnessed first hand this spring. Marquies Gunn is a bit undersized, but his toughness and strength has made him a solid run-defender.

Merrill Johnson has been called the most exciting young stud on this team. Already one of the hardest hitters, his summer strength results were outrageous. He is surely a future all-SEC caliber LB. The biggest surprise came from Chris Evans who was a grayshirt last fall. He has won the backup job at MLB and tackled everything in sight this spring. Like Johnson, he hits extremely hard.

Coaches are still waiting for Montae Pitts to show he can be an every-down CB. Will Herring continues to demonstrate the lapses that got him burned occasionally last fall, so watch for foes to pass on first-down(s) more often than initially running into that powerful front-seven.

Al Borges and his assistants traveled to Indianapolis this spring to meet with the Colts offensive staff. An examination was made on how the Colts use the single-back set and play-action to put up such huge passing numbers. Auburn is primarily a two-back system, but with Williams and Brown gone, and with Auburn boasting an enormous set of receivers, do not be surprised to see a one-back set wrinkle added in time for fall.