Chizik needs to maintain positive momentum

Published 2:33 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This space on Sunday was dedicated to the questions facing Alabama’s football program as it enters spring practice. Today, we’ll focus on cross-state rival Auburn.

While Alabama coach Nick Saban opted to hold one practice before Spring Break, first-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik will employ a more traditional schedule and open spring practice on March 24, after the break. When Auburn does enter camp, questions will abound.

1. The quarterback position. Auburn fans were wondering about this position at this time last year. A year later, and no further insight is available. The only thing we know is that a new coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will be making the call, and Malzahn has said he won’t rotate quarterbacks.

Expect this offense, this season anyway, to rely heavily on the run because of the lack of a proven passer and general unfamiliarity with the scheme. That being said, expect Chris Todd to enter the season as the No. 1 guy. Again. The difference this year could be that Todd is healthy. Last year, he was slowed by a bad shoulder.

Malzahn will pick Todd because he will show an ability to get the offense into the correct play at the line of scrimmage and not throw the football to the defense.

2. Gene Chizik. Chizik’s hiring wasn’t a popular decision, but the coach seems to have gained some capital by bringing aboard some respected assistant coaches and by pulling off a respectable recruiting class.

Chizik will need to strike a delicate balance of both fostering optimism about the direction of program while also tempering expectations. If he can’t do that and negative publicity mounts, Chizik will find himself on the wrong side of…

3. The Auburn fan base. How could this group’s mood be described? Cautiously optimistic? Down but not out? In one season, Auburn fans watched their program go from SEC West favorites with a stranglehold on their in-state rivalry to looking up at most of the division, including sudden national power Alabama.

But the improvement of the program under Chizik will depend greatly on fan support. The attendance of Auburn’s A-Day game on April 18 will tell us much.