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2021 SEC Football Preview: Auburn Tigers

2021 SEC Football Preview: Auburn Tigers

2020 Recap

2021 SEC Football Preview: Auburn Tigers
2020 Schedule

2020 Record: 6-5

3rd in the West

The 2020 season was the tipping point for Gus Malzahn, who’s seat seemed to be in constant high heat. The Tigers went 6-5, getting blown out in an uncompetitive bowl game against Northwestern.

Auburn was also the beneficiaries of three questionable game altering calls that gifted the Tigers at least two wins from officials, including a last second win against Arkansas. But, the new chapter begins. Eight year head coach Gus Malzahn has moved on to UCF. The Bryan Harsin era begins

2021 Outlook

Is Bryan Harsin the Answer?

It’s no secret that Auburn’s coaching search last year went through a whirlwind of potential candidates. At times it even seemed like all we were waiting on was wet ink from former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Regardless of rumors, it’s certain Harsin was not at the top of the short list early on.

Regardless, he’s the man in charge now. Harsin took over for Chris Peterson very well at Boise State, keeping the group of five program as one of the premiere teams year in and year out. The Broncos went 69-19 with a 3-2 bowl record and were ranked at some point in each of Harsin’s seven years.

Harsin is new to the SEC and will need to pick it up quickly with an Auburn fanbase that expects to win and win fast. He made two terrific hires in the offseason that should prove vital to his success or failure.

Derek Mason comes over as defensive coordinator after spending seven years as head coach at Vanderbilt. And Mike Bobo will be offensive coordinator. Bobo was offensive coordinator at South Carolina last year and spent a long stint with Georgia before that.

Bo Nix Needs to Develop
2021 SEC Football Preview: Auburn Tigers
Bo Nix (Photo by dothaneagle.com)

We’re entering year three now and Bo Nix’s journey has been a disappointment thus far. The former 247Sports No.1 duel threat quarterback and prized jewel of the 2019 Auburn class has underperformed in his first two year.

Nix produced mediocre numbers his first year, nothing to cause concern for a first year player. But last year saw little improvement on the stat sheet or by the eye test. Accuracy continues to be a concern as does his lack of consistency.

Harsin and Bobo will need to tap into Nix’s full potential for Auburn to have a successful first year. Harsin, a former quarterback himself, developed four different 3,000-yard passers in his time at Boise State. He’s more than capable of getting Bo to turn the corner.

A major obstacle for Bo will be operating without last year’s top three targets. Ultimately a large chunk of the workload is inevitably going to fall on running back Tank Bigsby’s shoulders. The SEC Freshman of the Year is one of the best in the league this year and should crack the 1,000 yard rushing mark with ease. He’ll be a treat to watch this season.

New Defensive Coordinator

As previously mentioned, Derek Mason is the new man on the sidelines for the Auburn defense. He’ll utilize the 3-4 and 4-3 in contrast to Steele’s 4-2-5. It’s an exciting hire for Harsin and Auburn fans as he brings loads of experience on the defensive side of the ball. The immense loads of talent leftover by Steele leaves a lot to be excited for this season.

2021 SEC Football Preview: Auburn Tigers
Smoke Monday (Photo by 247sports.com)

The Tiger defense boasts five SEC All-Americans; second most in the conference behind Alabama. Veteran Smoke Monday leads the way in the secondary. The senior was everywhere on the field last year. He’s joined by fellow senior Roger McCreary who is just as dangerous on the other side of the field.

Arguably the SEC’s second best linebacking core is headlined by Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe. McClain enters his final year coming off a team leading 113 total tackles in 2020. Pappoe, the other prized jewel of the 2019 class, was second on the team in tackles. The duo will be vital to improving upon last year’s defense that finished sixth in the SEC in yards allowed.

Recap

Hopefully fans will be more patient with Harsin than they have been with Gus. Defense is only going to be able to do so much for this team. Unless Bo comes out slinging and pushes this offense to even slightly above average in the SEC, it’s bound to be a mediocre season.

The nonconference slate likely contains a loss on the road against Penn State. The Tigers also get LSU and Georgia to start off conference play. They could be looking at a 3-3 start with a couple trap games at Arkansas and against Ole Miss to look forward to.

All things considered, they should be safe to make a bowl game. 6-6 seems reasonable. Eight wins or more and Harsin is ahead of schedule.

 

 

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