Auburn rode the largest senior class in program history along with arguably the best quarterback in college football all the way to last season's national championship.
With Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton gone, however, Barrett Trotter has some big shoes to fill on an inexperienced roster for the 23rd-ranked Tigers as their title defense begins against Utah State at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
As Newton led Auburn to a 14-0 record last season, including a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS championship game, Trotter didn't make it on the field much, completing a total of six passes for 64 yards in five games. The junior quarterback, though, beat out sophomore Clint Moseley and freshman Kiehl Frazier for the starting job and is looking forward to finally getting a chance to shine.
"It comes with a lot of responsibilities, so that's another role I'm going to have to take on," said Trotter, who was redshirted in 2008 and missed all of 2009 with a knee injury. "I can't say I'm surprised at all but I'm glad the way things worked out."
Coach Gene Chizik is hoping Trotter can lead the way on a team which has just 11 seniors with previous playing experience, compared to 24 last season.
"We feel like he gives us the best chance to win," Chizik said. "This is a great opportunity for him to write his own story. There's a lot of ingredients in there. It's experience, it's knowledge of the offense, it's leadership ability. Obviously consistency managing our team."
Chizik is likely counting on his dynamic running back tandem to take some pressure off Trotter.
Michael Dyer ran for 1,093 yards last season - most by a freshman in school history - and Onterio McCalebb had 810 for an Auburn rushing attack which tied for fifth in country with 284.8 yards per game. The Tigers have never had the luxury of returning a pair of 800-yard rushers.
While Newton's absence will take some getting used to, the void left by Nick Fairley also could be an issue. Fairley, who won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman before being selected 12 spots after Newton went No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, led a defense which held opponents to 109.1 rushing yards per game - ninth-fewest in the FBS.
Fairley and fellow defensive tackle Zach Clayton, also currently in the NFL, will be replaced by sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter. The young duo recorded a combined nine tackles in limited playing time last season.
"Those salty old veterans that we have who have played half a year?" Chizik said jokingly. "It matters and they are the veterans of the bunch, I guess. Here's the thing: There's no substitution for the experience they got. Regardless of how many plays they did or did not play, they played last year and they pretty much played the whole year."
With 15 consecutive victories, the Tigers are currently tied for the third-longest winning streak in team history. They have won five straight season openers.
The Aggies, meanwhile, are coming off their 13th straight losing campaign with a 4-8 record in 2010, including two losses to ranked teams. They are 1-54 all-time versus opponents in the AP or BCS poll.
Utah State also will be playing with a new quarterback, but it's unknown if junior college transfer Adam Kennedy or freshman Chuckie Keeton will be under center.
"The staff and the football team are very comfortable with our quarterback situation," coach Gary Andersen told the Aggies' official website. "Playing a quality opponent like Auburn, we believe it is important for us to gain every advantage we can. Announcing a starting quarterback could possibly be a disadvantage for our football team."
Utah State welcomes back Robert Turbin after he missed all of last season with a knee injury. With 1,798 career rushing yards, the junior running back needs just 22 to move into the top 10 all-time in school history.