This year, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik had much less joyous things to reflect on such as the shooting that took the life of three young men including two former players on June 9.
“This is the first opportunity that I have had to thank so many people for their outpouring of love, prayers, emails, phone calls to the Auburn family since that tragic night on June 9th,” Chizik said. “I do want to say thank you. I didn’t think it would be right of me to stand up here in my first opportunity public and not do that.”
When it comes to the gridiron, Chizik believes their win against Virginia gave his team momentum and confidence going into this upcoming season.
“Chick-fil-A Bowl was a very big moment for us, because that night a lot young football players stepped up to play,” Chizik said. “We beat a very good football team. That is a team that went into Florida State and beat them. They went into Miami and beat Miami. They beat Georgia Tech and they were undefeated. They were a good football team. That was a big win for our team. I think a lot of young players stepped up to the plate. I think that gave us some momentum as we kind of propelled ourselves through the off-season. I don’t think it is any question that it put some of our young guys on the map as far as confidence. Since then it has been a good thing watching our guys grow.”
Chizik said the experience his underclassman gained last season has put their program at better state than it was last July.
“I think back a year ago, today we are in a much stronger position as a football team,” Chizik said. “I think one of the reasons that we are there is finally in my opinion after so many years we have developed depth and got a little bit of experience. You look on paper right now, we have 16 returning starters, but the truth of the matter is we have guys right behind those guys that are considered starters pushing them for a starting job. We certainly have some question marks at a few positions, but at the end if you go back and look over the previous three years we got guys pushing for jobs. The depth and experience is the reason that has happened. That’s a good thing.”
With Gus Malzahn taking over at Arkansas State, Auburn brought in Scot Loeffler as their offensive coordinator. Loeffler has earned the reputation as a quarterback developer from his days at Michigan and his time in the NFL.
Chizik said having a coach like Loeffler would help the development of Kiehl Frazier and the other quarterbacks on the team.
“It is important for obviously any quarterback in our whole football team,” Chizik said. “It was imperative that as I went out and looked into who the new coordinators would potentially be, that was a huge point of emphasis the way I saw it in who we hire. Scot has been great developing quarterbacks. I think that has been his forte. Even though he’s a young coach, that’s what he is known for back when he coached the quarterback at Michigan… I think our quarterbacks have embraced it. I think this is something that, moving forward is really, really good in terms of us going out and recruiting quarterbacks knowing that Scot has been a proven guy when it comes to the development of that position.”
For the second consecutive season, the Tigers quarterback job is as Chizik said “up for grabs” going into fall practice. Sophomore Frazier and junior Clint Moseley are battling for the job.
Frazier played in 13 games last season and went 5-12 passing for 34 yards and two interceptions. He rushed for 327 yards on 76 carries and he found the end zone three times.
Moseley started six games and passed for 800 yards while throwing five touchdowns and three picks.
“We are looking for the guy that can take Auburn and lead them to win football games,” Chizik said. “Kiehl is strongly considered in the mix. I think he’s grown; he’s grown a lot as a football player since he has been here. There was some means to the madness last year to make sure we played him in games when the game was on the line, where something was a lot at stake. We play him early in games, late in games, particularly when he was ready. I think he got that feel. Clint Moseley has done the same thing. A lot of snaps last year. We made the change at halftime of the Florida game. Clint has a lot of room for improvement and he knows that and we know that. It is going to be a battle.”
The Tigers will take on one of the two new teams in the SEC with Texas A&M. Chizik saw both teams during his four years at Iowa State. He believes both teams have what it takes to be successful in the SEC.
“These are two dang good football teams with dang good football coaches,” Chizik said. “They’ve got the players. They’ve got the coaches. They’ve got great venues. They’ve got great backing. It is a perfect fit for our league. They are going to fit right in here. There’s probably some missed notions with people that they’re going to come in here and struggle. Like anybody, they’re going to have good years; they’re going to have some bad years. Overall, Kevin Sumlin and Gary Pinkel, they can coach. Missouri is a good football program and so is Texas A&M. So it’s going to be a good fit. There’s going to be some good football added to our league.”
Auburn opens the season Sept.1 against Clemson in the Georgia Dome. The fourth year coach said his players are excited about playing a game of that magnitude to open the season. Last season, Clemson defeated Auburn 38-24.
“To have that game at the beginning of the season is interesting for our guys,” Chizik said. “We haven’t necessarily had a game opening team since I’ve been there that is going to be exciting for our program. Not that the other games weren’t, but this is a big game against probably a top 10 team. I don’t now where all that is, but it’s a great team that really had some great success.”
This off-season, the NCAA did away with the BCS system in favor of the four-team playoff that will start in 2014. Chizik has mixed feelings about the playoff system.
“In 2010, if we had the four- team playoff system in place, I was at Auburn went through this league undefeated, we won the SEC Championship game,” Chizik said. “Am I in favor of playing another one to prove I deserve getting to the national championship game, he asked. No I don’t. But if you go back to 2004, when we were undefeated and we didn’t get into the national championship game because we weren’t 1 or 2, then I am in favor of it. I think, as anything you can shoot holes in anything you want. I think it is a movement in the right direction.”