Senior-laden Auburn 'better equipped' in 2010

If you’re looking for the SEC team with the most seniors in key spots next season, look no further than the Plains.

The team Auburn puts on the field in 2010 will easily be one of the most experienced in the league. The Tigers return 14 projected senior starters, including four returning starters in the offensive line, four starters in the front seven on defense from a year ago and both kickers.

All told, the Tigers list 24 seniors on their roster.

And while quarterback Cameron Newton will be a first-year starter, he’s projected to have five senior starters around him.

Defensively, senior safeties Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil aren’t all necessarily projected as starters as they try to bounce back from serious injuries, but just having them on the practice field every day and in the locker room should be invaluable as the Tigers try to make their move in the Western Division next season.

Granted, a surplus of seniors doesn’t guarantee you anything in this league. But senior linebacker Josh Bynes said it’s the right kind of seniors that makes up this class, which is why he’s so eager for the fall to get here.

“It gets back to experience and leadership, having guys who’ve been there and gone through the things we have,” said Bynes, who led Auburn with 104 tackles last season. “We have a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who’ve played now on this defense. The chemistry is going to be tremendous. When we get the numbers right, and we will, I can’t wait to see what this defense can do.”

At linebacker, that means more numbers, which is where incoming freshmen LaDarius Owens and Jake Holland could come in handy in the fall. Freshman linebacker Jessel Curry is already on campus and went through spring ball, while the Tigers plan to move sophomore Daren Bates from safety to outside linebacker.

Bates missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, but was a hitting machine during his freshman season as one of the best freshman safeties in the SEC.

“We’re much better equipped [to make a run for the title] for a lot of reasons,” Bynes said. “It’s our second year under coach [Gene] Chizik, and we have veteran guys who’ve done it before and know what it takes in this league.

“Our expectation level is high. The second year, a lot of guys are coming back and we’re very focused. Coach Chizik has been very demanding, but we’ve been very demanding.

“I think we’re up to the challenge.”

One thing to keep in mind is that the Tigers have to play 11 straight weeks again in 2010 before they get a bye. That grind wore on them last season, which no doubt contributed to their losing five of their last six SEC games.

But that’s where the added depth -- and a senior-laden roster -- should help when they get in the throes of that gauntlet next season.

“I know we’ll respond better, because we’ve all been through it,” Bynes said. “We know what to look for. We know how to handle it. Plus, we’re going to be fresher for that final stretch.”