A tradition has ended at Auburn. From the mighty mites (diminutive pro stars Joe Cribbs, James Brooks and Lionel James) to the tried (Heisman winner Bo Jackson) and the truant (academic AWOL Brent Fullwood) the Tigers have had a breakaway back in their attack for the last 10 years.
But this season the line of succession ceases as sophomore James (Bo Peep) Joseph—a 4.7 slow-burner who gained just 265 yards in '86—and a crew of similarly unproved backups take over. "They can all move," says coach Pat Dye in a less-than-ringing endorsement.
Fortunately for Auburn, the strength of its passing, punting and defense means the backs won't have to move too much for the team to go far. Auburn returns a first-rate quarterback in senior Jeff Burger—but just by a whisker. Burger courted ineligibility this month with some careless plagiarism on a term paper. Then it turned out that in July, assistant coach Pat Sullivan had bailed Burger out of jail after a late-night brawl. That, too, could have cost Burger his senior year, but the NCAA ruled the offense forgivable.
Sullivan, the new quarterback coach, has taken Burger under his Heisman-winning wing in more ways than one. He tidied Burger's drop and taught him to put more body into his throwing motion, and he also helped him to believe in his ability. "He made me confident in myself and confident he had confidence in me," Burger says.
Burger still needs a reminder: Inscribed on his wristband, along with the hurry-up offense, are the words CONFIDENCE and POISE. He used both last year to spark a last-minute winning drive against Alabama.
Burger will be looking downfield at some tremendous talent this year: Walter Reeves—Dye has sent three tight ends to the pros, and Reeves may be the best yet—Freddy Weygand, who returns after sitting out last year for personal, non-academic reasons; and Lawyer Tillman, a 6'4" split end who averaged 20.9 yards on 35 catches in '86.
Auburn has nine starters back from the nation's No. 2 defense against scoring, plus the SEC's best punter, Brian Shulman (44.1 yards a kick). Returning are defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, all-SEC as a sophomore after leading the Tigers in tackles as a freshman; inside linebacker Kurt Crain, who made a school-record 156 tackles in '86; and the 6'6" twin towers at outside linebacker, Brian Smith and Aundray Bruce.
Dye occasionally has to push Bruce—"It needs to be uncomfortable for him," the coach says—but when he wants to, he can dominate a game. He can also provoke some head scratching. Though Bruce has done away with his Mr. T key chain, he did saunter into a team lecture about agents last spring with a bow and arrow. "That was for anyone who tries to take away my eligibility," Bruce says.
For '87, Auburn has added 10,000 seats to Jordan-Hare Stadium, increasing its capacity to 85,000. To ensure an opening-day sellout, the Tigers replaced Tennessee-Chattanooga with Texas. In like a lion, out like a lion: Auburn plays Florida, Florida State, Georgia and 'Bama to end the season. "With that schedule, it would be highly unusual for us to finish in the Top Ten," says Dye. But this is an unusual Auburn team. If Joseph plays a Peep like Bo, it will be an unusually good Auburn team as well.
The Tiger defense is a tall tale: Smith (90) is one of two linebackers who are 6'6".
In '86, 379 points, second-best ever
More wins since '83 (38) than any other SEC team
A 95-year rivalry with Georgia Tech ends