At first glance. Auburn coach Pat Dye's list of concerns for spring practice seemed normal enough: 1) Find a quarterback to run his read-and-react wishbone attack; 2) Replace placekicker Al Del Greco; 3) Hope that consensus All-America halfback Bo Jackson (page 134), who had skipped spring football to take a run at making the Olympic track team, didn't catch terminal tetanus from a cinder burn. The bottom line was that Dye really had to "find a personality on offense." The success of his endeavor will largely determine how good Auburn becomes in '84.
Dye had his team on the couch because, despite an 11-1 record, an SEC championship and a 9-7 defeat of Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, the 1983 offense had about as much personality as The New York Times computer that picked the Tigers as No. 1 in the nation at season's end. Last year Auburn had a way of letting drives stall inside the opponents' 30-yard line. The Tigers would grind yards out but rarely got large chunks in a single blow. Auburn's only loss, 20-7 to Texas, was foregone when the Tigers fell behind early and couldn't come back. Why, in beating Georgia, Auburn outgained the Dawgs 356 yards to 168, yet won only 13-7.
"We started developing a personality, but we didn't finish it," Dye says. The other items on Dye's spring list, however, seem to have been resolved: Redshirt freshman walk-ons Chris Knapp and Robert McGinty kicked adequately in the A-Day game, and three quarterback candidates showed they're capable of replacing Randy Campbell, who graduated. Junior Pat Washington had a clear edge until the spring game, when senior Mike Mann and freshman redshirt Jeff Burger led their team to a 41-14 romp over Washington's unit and threw matters open again. "They're very similar," Dye says. "They all have strong arms and are better-than-average runners. We'll be able to throw more this year, but that's partly because we have a strong running game."
Jackson dominates the ground game, and Tommie Agee returns at fullback. Tim Jessie and Alan Evans should both see time in the halfback spot vacated by Lionel James. But before season's end, watch out for Brent Fullwood, a sophomore who had 114 yards in the A-Day game. Fullwood returned 13 of the 15 kickoffs and punts he fielded as a high school senior for TDs.
The Tiger defense is ornery. The standouts include Gregg Carr, who has averaged a team-leading 11 tackles a game over the past two seasons, and All-SEC cornerback David King, a member of the university's Dance Troupe. Three other starters return to the defensive backfield, a.k.a. the King and His Court. The line lost three All-SEC choices, but nine letter-men are back.
The addition of 20 freshman redshirts will help Auburn get through a nasty schedule that features an Aug. 27 opener against Miami in the Meadowlands and then seven other bowl teams. "And Southern Mississippi would have gone to a bowl if they hadn't been on probation," says Dye.
Whatever personality Dye's team develops, it'll be colored by a persecution complex based on the Tigers' ranking third in most of last season's final polls. "Put yourself in our shoes," says Jackson. "You're the No. 3 team, and the No. 1 and No. 2 teams lose. You should with no question move up to No. 1. But there comes a time in everyone's life when you're going to get screwed over. And that was our time."
Whether a team that can't score a touchdown in its bowl game deserves to be national champion is another question. Even this season, with a more engaging attack, the Tigers may not be the best team in the nation. But they should at least have an offense with personality. As for an offensive personality—that'll be left to the defense.
King is the premier performer in Auburn's seasoned secondary troupe.