Auburn has installed a new spread offense with hopes of improving its passing game, but it remains to be seen who will be under center to call the plays when the Tigers begin their season Saturday by hosting Louisiana-Monroe.
Auburn enters this season as the No. 10 team in the nation after going 9-4 in 2007, including 5-3 in the SEC. The Tigers allowed the fewest points in the conference (138) but scored the third-fewest (156), prompting coach Tommy Tuberville to bring in former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to run the show in December.
Franklin helped coach the offense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson, and Auburn amassed a season-high 423 yards in a 23-20 overtime win.
The Tigers’ offense ranked 107th nationally in passing and 101st in total yards last season.
“Everybody says, ‘Well, some teams run this.’ Not like we run it,” Tuberville said. “It’s no-huddle, fast-paced, fast-tempo, involve your quarterback in running the football, spread the field, use a lot of wide receivers.”
The Tigers, however, don’t know who their quarterback will be Saturday after Tuberville said Tuesday he will wait until the opener to name his starting signal-caller. Junior college transfer Chris Todd and sophomore Kodi Burns both expect to play in the game.
“It hasn’t been that both have done bad or both have done great,” Tuberville said. “It’s just that both have been very consistent. The players rally around both of them.
“It’s a great situation for us. Both will be hungry to play, and I want it that way. I want them both to be very competitive but I also want both of them to know they’re on the same team.”
Todd has more experience in the spread offense and might be a better passer, while Burns is considered to be the superior runner and scrambler.
“The thing about Kodi is he’s still in the learning mode,” Tuberville said. “Chris has been in this offense since diapers. He’s been running it forever. Without a big separation, I think it’s great on Kodi’s part to be able to catch up and learn. Chris has been a big part of that. Chris has been helping him out.”
Whoever starts at quarterback will be helped by Auburn’s solid defense, which features second-team preseason All-SEC pick Tray Blackmon at linebacker. The Tigers’ defense ranked sixth nationally last season.
“This seems like the year. There’s just something in the air that makes this year feel special,” Blackmon said.
Auburn’s first test comes against a Louisiana-Monroe team that went 6-6 last season - 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference - after opening with five losses in its first six games.
The Warhawks won five of their last six games, including a shocking 21-14 upset at Alabama on Nov. 17, to finish with their highest victory total since going 9-3 as a member of the Southland Conference in 1993.
“We really have a chance to have a pretty good football team,” said Charlie Weatherbie, now in his sixth season as ULM’s coach. “We have 16 returning starters and each is vital toward our success in the fall. We have worked diligently this offseason to get better and are very excited to start the season.”
One of those returning starters is Kinsmon Lancaster, who threw for 1,866 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 398 yards and a score.
“Kinsmon is carrying over from where he left off last fall,” Weatherbie said of his quarterback, whose 24 career starts are the most of any returning starter in the Sun Belt. “He is doing a great job leading the team and he’s executing very well right now.”
Auburn has won all six meetings with Louisiana-Monroe, including a 31-0 home victory in the last matchup Sept. 4, 2004.