Camp start: Aug. 3
Opener: Sept. 3 against Utah State at Jordan-Hare Stadium (noon EDT on ESPN2)
Fun Fact: The Tigers are 5-2 in two seasons under Gene Chizik in games in which they've trailed by double digits, after going 4-44 in such games in the 14 seasons before his arrival.
Auburn redshirt sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae understands his Tigers will be young this football season. He just doesn't foresee a drop-off in talent.
The defending national champions return fewer starters than any team in the Bowl Subdivision, as 18 of the 24 players, including specialists, who started in the 22-19 win over Oregon for the BCS crown have moved on. The only ones back are tailback Onterio McCalebb, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, offensive tackle Brandon Mosley, Eguae and defensive backs T'Sharvan Bell and Neiko Thorpe.
Replacing Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton is the most daunting assignment, but Eguae played the end spot opposite Antoine Carter, who produced the memorable stripping of Alabama tailback Mark Ingram, and on a front that had Lombardi Trophy winner Nick Fairley inside.
"We're going to go out there and do the things we have to do to be successful," Eguae said. "As far as making up for Nick, that's not going to happen, but as a unit, we're going to be just as good as we were last year, if not better."
Defensive end should be a strength for the Tigers with the return of Eguae, sophomore Corey Lemonier and junior Dee Ford. It's a bit more sketchy inside where sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter suddenly are the veterans and will be backed by freshmen Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright.
Daren Bates and Eltoro Freeman did have multiple starts at linebacker last year, but the number of challenges on both sides of the ball actually has third-year coach Gene Chizik far more excited than ill.
"There are going to be a lot of new names and a lot of new faces you're going to have to get used to this year," Chizik said. "We graduated 20-plus seniors, and I think we have somewhere around nine players on our roster left from the 2007 and 2008 signing classes combined, so we are a little bit light on experience.
"The great thing about where we are right now is that our football team this time last year did not know what 'great' looked like. The guys we have coming back know what 'great' looks like, and they also know we're a far cry from that."
Eguae, a 6-foot-2, 264-pounder from Mansfield, Texas, was a three-star prospect in the 2009 class who picked Auburn over Texas Tech and Colorado because he wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference.
After redshirting in '09, Eguae earned his first career start against South Carolina last September and made five tackles, including 1.5 for lost yardage. The Tigers struggled defensively for much of last year but were stout in the last 10 quarters, when they shut down Alabama in the second half before hampering South Carolina in the SEC title game and Oregon in the BCS championship game.
Eguae had 2.5 tackles for loss in his second go-around against the Gamecocks and had another one against the Ducks, but his favorite memory occurred during the 28-27 win at Alabama.
"There was a time during the game where we were down by 21 points, and we were sitting there on the bench," he said. "No one was really talking, and Nick Fairley said, 'What are y'all thankful for?' The crowd is screaming and we're down by 21, and he asks us all what we're thankful for.
"I said my family, and Nick Fairley picked the guys around him and how he was cherishing the moment. That's something I will remember for the rest of my life."
Auburn's defensive linemen worked under Tracy Rocker last year and will work for Mike Pelton this season, which is the only coaching change that has occurred under Chizik. Eguae said Rocker is the get-after-it type and Pelton is more detail-oriented.
The Tigers are being picked fifth in the SEC West after finishing No. 1 nationally, but Eguae believes that is a mistake.
"Ever since Jan. 11, we've heard the naysayers, but we're going to use that to our advantage," he said. "When you work so hard and everybody is telling you what you can't do, you want to go out there and do it. I think a lot of people in the media, they get misconstrued that being young is a lack of talent, and it's not at Auburn. We have a lot of talent."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...