published Thursday, January 13th, 2011

BCS champs could be vastly different in 2011

By Andy Bitter/McClatchy Newspapers

PHOENIX — Clad in a leather jacket and jeans, Auburn coach Gene Chizik finally had a casual moment Tuesday to enjoy his team's 22-19 victory against Oregon in the BCS national championship game.

In this business, he said, it doesn't last long.

"It's expired," Chizik joked. "You know, you savor the moment. But the great thing about college football and especially in our league, which is so competitive in every way, not just on the field but recruiting and things of that nature, there are no days off, to be honest with you.

"At Auburn University in terms of football, we have to start all over starting today."

The Tigers reveled in their recent title with fans Tuesday night upon returning from Arizona and plan to do so again in a formal event at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Jan. 22, but Chizik knows there remains hard work ahead trying to keep the program at a championship caliber.

Auburn loses 22 seniors from this year's team and has a small junior class, with only 15 scholarship players.

A couple of them could leave as well. Quarterback Cam Newton, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and wide receiver Darvin Adams are candidates to forgo their senior seasons and submit their names for the NFL Draft by the Jan. 15 deadline.

Fairley is No. 2 overall on Scouts Inc.'s top draft-eligible players. Newton is 15th but, as a quarterback, could command a large payday even if he goes in the middle of the first round. Adams has a lower stock, but it hasn't stopped past players from entering the draft.

Newton didn't tip his hand Tuesday night when he made an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, who asked him point blank about his future.

"Right now, I can't really say," Newton said. "But I can say this, when I make my decision I'll let you know."

Chizik said he'll sit down with all players who have to make NFL decisions in the near future to discuss their options.

"Don't really know exactly where those conversations are going to go," Chizik said. "But at the end of the day, I will always want what's best for the young men. And we'll have those discussions and we'll throw some things out on the table and be very candid with them and their folks. And they'll make a great educated decision, I'm sure."

The cupboard is not completely bare. Auburn has a ton of young talent, especially in a freshman class that recruiting services said were a consensus top-five group last year.

Freshman Mike Dyer figures to be the cornerstone of the offense moving forward, especially after running for 143 yards in three quarters of the title game to earn offensive MVP honors.

"I think he has got the potential to do whatever he wants to do if he will work at it," Chizik said.

To replenish the ranks, the coaching staff plans to immediately go into full recruiting mode, with the Feb. 2 National Signing Day less than three weeks away.

The Tigers have 17 commitments for 2011 but have to make up for lost time on the road. Auburn missed a week while preparing for the SEC title game and another while practicing for Monday's BCS national championship game.

"The foundation is still continuing to be built," Chizik said. "It all starts with recruiting. We feel good about it. We're not there yet. But we'll continue to work every day in that direction. I think at the moment where we feel like we have arrived and we feel like we are there, I think we're in trouble."

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