The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 19th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover the no. 7 Auburn Tigers.
Auburn was a win in the SEC Championship Game away from playing in the College Football Playoff. There is a good chance they could be competing for a CFP spot in the last weeks of the season again this year. Gus Malzahn has 13 starters to use this season.
The offense wasn’t the best it has been under Malzahn, an offensive guru, but they were good nonetheless. They ranked 27th in scoring, 26th against in rushing and 65th in passing. With Malzahn at the helm, a returning starting quarterback and six returning starters, they should be able to be similarly productive this year.
Jarrett Stidham started his career at Baylor, but his arrival at Auburn was highly anticipated. He threw for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions on 66.5% passing. His efficiency was great, and he can still improve heading into the 2018 season. SEC defenses are tough and after getting his feet wet in year one, he could break out this season.
Stidham will have weapons to throw to this season in Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. Davis is a player that just needs the ball in his hands, because once he has it, he’s a threat to take it to the house. His 84 receptions last season were an Auburn record. Slayton and Craig-Myers were deep threats, averaging 22.2 and 17.8 yards per reception respectively.
Kerryon Johnson is now playing for the Lions in the NFL, so a new running back is needed. Kam Martin figures to get most of the carries this season. He rushed for 453 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. Martin is a big-play threat and other running backs may need to come in to pick up the tough yardage.
Marquel Harrell is the only starter back on the offensive line, which could be a problem. Auburn usually does a good job of combating that with quick throws and read options in the running game.
If the offensive line gets figured out, Malzahn’s offense will be effective once again.
The defense was great last season and returns seven starters. They ranked 12th in points per game allowed, 35th against the run and 18th against the pass. With how well they played last year and the talent on this side of the ball, they should be tough this season.
Three starters return to a very good defensive line. Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell together form one of the best defensive lines in the country. Brown and Russell are two of the more productive tackles in college football, as they both had three sacks and also did a great job stuffing the run. Davidson also chipped in with three sacks and is a big physical presence at defensive end.
Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis are back at linebacker. Davis led the team in tackles with 86 and added four sacks. Williams has some versatility at the position and should see an improvement over last season. Montavious Atkinson will be a senior, but is new to the starting lineup this season. T.D. Moultry will be the speed rusher at the Buck position for the Tigers.
Carlton Davis, Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts are gone from the secondary, but Jamel Dean and Jeremiah Dinson are back. Dean is a lengthy corner that can match up with some of the bigger receivers in the SEC. While other players in the secondary don’t have starting experience, they have gotten enough playing time to think that there won’t be a lot of dropoff from last season.
The defense will be good, but if they want to make a run at the College Football Playoff, they’ll need to be among the best in the country.
The non-conference schedule has games against Washington (Atlanta,GA), Alabama State (home), Southern Miss (home) and Liberty (home). The season will open with a coin-flip game against Washington, but the rest of the games outside of the SEC will be easy wins.
In the SEC, Auburn plays LSU (home), Mississippi State (away), Texas A&M (home), Georgia (away) and Alabama (away). They are talented enough to win all of these games, but the back end of the schedule with Georgia and Alabama on the road in the last three weeks will be tough.
If the defense plays well, Auburn can win nine to 11 games this year. If the offense steps up more, they can make it to the College Football Playoff.
Make sure to check out our college football page for more updates and rankings.