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Tide schedule preview: Auburn

Auburn's Kiehl Frazier is expected to have his hands on the ball during key plays in 2012. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The rundown

2011 overall record: 8-5

2011 conference record: 4-4

Record against Alabama: 34-41-1

Returning starters

Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Clint Moseley, QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, CB Chris Davis, P Steven Clark

Key losses

QB Barrett Trotter, RB Michael Dyer, OT Brandon Mosley, LB Eltoro Freeman, S Neiko Thorpe

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Michael Dyer (1,242 yards)

Passing: Barrett Trotter (1,184 yards)

Receiving: Emory Blake* (613 yards)

Tackles: Daren Bates* (104)

Sacks: Corey Lemonier* (9.5)

Interceptions: Neiko Thorpe (3)

What they're saying:

"It's up for grabs," Auburn coach Gene Chizik told reporters of the quarterback battle at SEC media days. "We're looking for the guy that can take Auburn and lead them to win football games. Kiehl is strongly considered in the mix. I think 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 football games when the game was on the line, where there was a lot at stake. We played him early in the games, middle of the game, late in the game, particularly when he was ready. I think he's got that feel.

"That compared to being the starting quarterback is still different. But, again, you're looking at a young man that strategically we played for that reason. So this year as he competes for a starting job, playing in a game on national TV in front of 90,000 or 100,000 people is not foreign to him."

Three things to watch:

1. Frazier's maturation: Go back a few lines and read Chizik's comments to the media. He says there was a "method to the madness" in using Frazier in several different situations. Well, the one situation he was never used in -- you know, a passing situation -- would have been of some use. Yes, Frazier got a lot of playing time in 2011, but he never got to pass the ball. In fact, he threw the ball just 12 times in 13 games. If he's to become the next starting quarterback at Auburn, he has a long way to go. That means reading defenses and coverage schemes. That means feeling his way around the pocket, rather than bailing out of it. That means a lot of hard work and studying the game.

2. Bad timing: Auburn was going to have a tough road to hoe in 2012 before it ever got started. The schedule is absolutely brutal, with four of the first five games against Clemson, Mississippi State, Arkansas and LSU. Then news of Gus Malzahn's departure came, followed by Ted Roof heading off to Penn State. Then the team's leading rusher, Michael Dyer, transferred to Arkansas State. Chizik was going to have his hands full already, but two new coordinators and replacing your top offensive weapon? Yikes.

3. An anchor on defense: Chizik was right about one thing. The team will be more experienced in 2012, especially on defense where the Tigers struggled. The top returner has to be defensive end Corey Lemonier, who led the team with 9.5 sacks. He was one of the league's top pass-rushers and was voted as such when he was named to the pre-season All-SEC team earlier this month. But even Lemonier will admit there's room to improve in his game, particularly run defense. There's no doubt Lemonier can get to the quarterback, but if Auburn is to take a step forward on defense he'll have to do more than just speed rush.