Checking in on the Auburn Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. -- Having made my way east via Highway 280, I go from one recent national championship team to the defending national champion.

And get this: I never even had to leave the state of Alabama.

I'll be in Auburn the next two days catching up with coaches and players as the Tigers try to come up with an encore for a magical 2010 season, one that saw them go 14-0 and win their first national title since 1957.

Every team is different, though, and the 2011 Auburn team will be completely different than the one Gene Chizik put on the field in Glendale, Ariz., back in January.

Gone from that team are 35 players who were on the roster that night, including the likes of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Josh Bynes, Darvin Adams, Zac Etheridge, Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh and Antoine Carter.

The Tigers lost a lot of playmakers, but they also lost a lot of leadership.

They opened spring practice on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see where the new leadership comes from and how the chemistry on this team develops.

The Tigers aren't lacking in talent. That 2010 signing class was full of talent, and more help is on the way this summer when the 2011 signees start arriving on campus.

It's a team that will have to grow up in a hurry, though, with a lot of new faces in key spots and a schedule that's the toughest in the league.