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Auburn 2013 season preview

Gus Malzahn takes over a reeling Auburn program that hasn't won an SEC game since 2011. Surprisingly, Auburn's best chance to win a league game last year came against one of the best, a 12-10 home setback to LSU that nearly sunk LSU's season early. Malzahn's track record with the spread offense suggests he can have the Tigers' offense revived in short order. He is very adept at finding ways to get his best offensive athletes into open space.

Rebuilding the defense will fall on new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. There is some draftable talent on hand, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but much of it won't be coming out in 2014. Since Auburn's 2010 national championship team placed four players -- two of them top 10 picks -- in the 2011 NFL Draft, the drop in talent has been sharp. Only one Tiger was taken in the 2012 draft (Brandon Mosley, a fourth-round pick by the New York Giants), and only one this year (Corey Lemonier, a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers).

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
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Top senior prospects


FB Jay Prosch: The former Illinois player transferred to Auburn last season and, with a hardship waiver from the NCAA, was immediately eligible. He responded with a strong season and figures to be a major figure in the Tigers' offense this season under Gus Malzahn, who described him as the "MVP of the spring." Prosch is also a leader in the AU weight room.

DE Dee Ford: The Tigers' sack leader last season with six, Ford will be heavily counted on for big production this fall. However, he is undersized (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) for the NFL as a pass rusher, and would have to make a difficult move to linebacker to stick in the NFL. As such, Ford is considered a marginal pro prospect. He will miss at least the season opener with a left knee injury, and could miss more time. And if football doesn't work out, he most definitely has a career in music.

DL Jeff Whitaker: A defensive tackle prospect, Whitaker (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) missed several games due to injury last season. He made only 12 tackles, but his NFL potential was more obvious his sophomore year, when he made 13 starts.

Top underclassmen


RB Cameron Artis-Payne: Artis-Payne hasn't played a down for the Tigers yet, but the junior-college transfer was considered the nation's top JuCo rusher after posting 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns last year at Allen Hancock Community College in California. Artis-Payne (5-11, 208) ran for 117 yards and had 47 receiving yards in Auburn's spring game. Expectations already are high.

DL Angelo Blackson: A big presence inside for Auburn (6-4, 312), the junior Blackson made 10 starts last season with 26 tackles and seven tackles for loss. A classic 4-3 tackle who might have a chance to turn pro early with a big 2013 season.

OL Reese Dismukes: The 6-3, 290-pound Dismukes figures to be a four-year starter for the Tigers. He enters his junior season on the Rimington Trophy watch list and received preseason All-SEC accolades. Battled minor injuries last season, missing games against Clemson and Ole Miss.

RB Tre Mason: Smallish for the NFL (5-10, 196), Mason could be a third-down back at the pro level. Had a productive season despite little help from his passing game last year with 1,002 yards on 171 carries. Not an early-entry level talent, but he certainly has a unique training method.

OL Greg Robinson: Perhaps the best raw talent on the entire roster, Robinson (6-5, 315) is only a third-year sophomore this fall. Handled the difficult left tackle responsibility as a redshirt freshman last year, making 11 starts. Robinson has a strong work ethic and recognizes where he needs to improve. Excellent student who could be a candidate to enter the 2015 draft.

TE C.J. Uzomah: One of the most talented players in Auburn's junior class, Uzomah caught seven passes for nearly 20 yards per catch last season. Good size at 6-4, 255, and can also play special teams. Should benefit from Malzahn's retooling of the offense.

DL Gabe Wright: The 6-3, 300-pound Wright came on strong near the end of the 2012 season, and finished with 19 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss. Not an early-entry possibility as a junior, but will be one to watch for 2015.

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Three must-see games of 2013


Sept. 14 vs. Mississippi State: Auburn hasn't won a conference game since 2011. Suffice it to say its first chance to do so in 2013, at home against a beatable team, will come with some pressure.

Nov. 2 at Arkansas: Watching Arkansas try to beat Auburn with a power-running game, and Auburn countering with Gus Malzahn's offense, will be a strange sight.

Nov. 30 vs. Alabama: When the Tigers host the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium, home-field advantage is palpable. Just ask the 2009 Alabama team that went in as a heavy favorite and barely escaped with its skin.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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