Mailbag: On Auburn rebounding; Driskel's potential and Kiel's options

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send your questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

From @JodeySwann: What is the outlook for the Auburn Tigers in their 1st year under Gus after such a dismal 2012 campaign?

I expect the Tigers to have a similar bounce this season to what Ole Miss had in Hugh Freeze's first season running things in Oxford after the Rebels came off their worst season in school history. Gus Malzahn returns to Auburn bringing a much-needed gust of new energy. After Cam Newton and Malzahn left, it seemed like the Tigers lost whatever identity they had. There was still talent there, but Auburn just looked lost on both sides of the ball. The QB play went from great to dreadful.

The Tigers were No. 115 in total offense and near the bottom of the SEC in every meaningful offensive stat in 2012. They averaged under 19 points a game last season -- and now they lose two reliable receivers in Emory Blake and TE Philip Lutzenkirchen and a dangerous play-maker (Onterio McCalebb). Still, don't be surprised if their scoring average goes up by at least 10 points per game in 2013.

The biggest area where I think you'll see improvement from Auburn this fall is at QB. Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee know exactly what they want, and they did a good job polishing up QB Ryan Aplin in their one year at Arkansas State. They helped Aplin go from a 19-16 TD-INT ratio to a sterling 24-4. His sack total also dropped from 27 to 15.

Back at Auburn, they'll have their hands full rebuilding the confidence of the QBs, starting with Malzahn's old protege Kiehl Frazier, who had a 2-8 TD-INT ratio before he lost the starting job in an embarrassing 24-7 home loss to a hapless Arkansas squad. Another disappointing reflection of how much the Tigers QB struggled was the fact that he only had one carry for more than eight yards all season, and that went for just 12.

Frazier, like the other four QBs who will battle for the job, is capable of running the zone reads and being a threat with the QB draws that the new Tigers coaches like to do. And if Frazier or Jonathan Wallace doesn't shine this spring, keep an eye on Nick Marshall, who arrives in the summer.  

The other area that's really under the microscope is up front. The O-line, which was really seasoned the year the Tigers won the BCS title, is still suspect. It was a young group last fall and it showed. Auburn averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in SEC play, worst in the conference. We'll see if former prized recruits Avery Young and Greg Robinson, the two tackles, are capable of living up to the hype. One big plus is that powerhouse fullback Jay Prosch brings a dimension the Tigers didn't really have when Malzahn was here last time.

Malzahn's best move was bringing on Ellis Johnson to run the defense. Johnson had a miserable one season as a head coach at Southern Miss, but he knows how to put together a good SEC defense. Adding Rodney Garner, Cheese Harbison and Melvin Smith were good touches too. We'll see if blue-chip D-linemen Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel can bring some juice back to a listless defense.

From @Eersfan_1985: Lost my dad this week HUGE WVU fan I wld really appreciate a response. Do you believe they will be with the top of the b12 soon?

Sorry to hear about your family's loss. I'd like to be able to tell you your team is on the brink of winning the Big 12, but it's impossible to look at a program that was as bad on defense as WVU was in 2012 and now has to replace a great QB (Geno Smith), two standout receivers (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) and the interior of the O-line and expect to have a breakout season.

But there are some signs for optimism in Morgantown: Keith Patterson is an experienced defensive coordinator and things should improve some on that side of the ball with his stability. The running backs are very good and afford Dana Holgorsen a chance to do some creative things scheme-wise. Also, the Mountaineers will be dangerous throwing the football. People inside the program are confident in junior QB Paul Millard. He's got a pretty good arm, is really bright and figures to be the guy to beat for Smith's old job. Biggest reason for optimism of all: Holgorsen and Shannon Dawson are so sharp offensively, they will move the ball. That said, the Mountaineers are no longer in the Big East. This is a much deeper and tougher conference and I'm not sure they'll have the pieces in place to be a top 20 team for another year or two.   

From @Frizz527: What are your thoughts on Jeff Driskel? Can the Gators win the SEC in 2013 or 2014 with him as QB?

Driskel is a guy I definitely think is capable of leading Florida to an SEC title in the next two seasons ... assuming the quarterback is still at UF in 2014 and doesn't opt to leave for the NFL. The kid has high first-round potential but is still somewhat raw. He did make big strides in his development last season, though, and it should help that he has the same coach for a second consecutive season (Brent Pease) after having Charlie Weis his freshman year.

Driskel's a big, athletic guy with a very strong arm. From an intangibles standpoint, I'm told he's becoming a much more vocal leader. A big key with Driskel in 2012 was how he avoided turnovers, which is a huge thing, especially for a young QB.

Over the course of the season, people realized how much straight-line speed Driskel has, and his legs became a weapon for UF. He had eight games with a run 20 yards or longer. At Vandy, he ran for 177 yards and three TDs. Ultimately, though, his worth as a QB will be defined by how much more polish he can add as a passer.

In one season, he went from completing 47 percent of his passes to 64 percent. Driskel's level of accuracy last season might surprise some people. Bill Connelly from the outstanding conducted an extensive research project in hopes of getting a better gauge about just how accurate college QBs were in 2012. Connelly and his researchers spent around 400 hours charting the passing distances of 43 quarterbacks for numerous games to factor in an "adjusted completion percentage." Driskel came in tied for 13th at 64.5 percent, which was better than Matt Barkley (USC), Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Braxton Miller (Ohio State). Connelly's data reflects that Driskel and UF didn't have much success throwing downfield.

Connelly told me that of the seven UF games he charted (which were against mostly the toughest teams the Gators played -- Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, FSU and Louisville), Driskel attempted just nine passes 25 yards or deeper and completed only two of them.

Don't mistake that for a reflection of a quarterback lacking arm strength. Driskel actually has one of the stronger arms in the country. If anything, it's probably related to an underwhelming wide receiver corps (that didn't really have a position coach in 2012) and the shaky timing between that group and a young QB trying to steer clear of danger.

It'll help a lot if a wideout steps up. Will it be former blue-chipper Andre Debose? Can Solomon Patton, who was starting to emerge before breaking his arm in October, become a go-to guy? Demarcus Robinson has people at UF intrigued, but will he be ready to shine?

From @mgibboney8: Why would anybody take a risk on Gunner Kiel going forward?

People will always be tempted by potential, and Kiel has prototype size, pretty good feet and solid arm strength. As I reported Thursday, I spoke to one coach at a big-time program who said Kiel's representative approached them about transferring, but they declined his interest. The feeling from that coach is that Kiel doesn't have the kind of grit or competitiveness they're looking for in a quarterback. However, that doesn't mean other schools won't be intrigued by his high school film and meet with him and then be convinced that he's worth a shot. Or that he can mature into being The Guy at their program under their guidance.

Accepting transfer QBs can be a tricky process, depending on the set-up of your depth chart. Kiel would likely have to sit out 2013 and then would have three years of eligibility remaining. reported four potential transfer options for Kiel: Ball State, Miami (Ohio), NIU and Cincinnati. I wonder if he's better served going to a junior college for 2013, playing and then going through the recruiting process. That way he doesn't have a couple of seasons of rust from not playing at all. But the flipside is, by transferring to a four-year school he'd at least be able to get a jump on learning that offense and bonding with his teammates and coaches.

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