The Tigers have lots of potential on offense and should boast a very solid defensive unit.
College football is still weeks away, but it will be here before you know it! The writers here at SQ are previewing the top-25 teams as voted on by us, and today we’re covering #10 Auburn.
Team Name: Auburn Tigers
2016 Record: 8-5
Finish in AP Poll: 24
Coach: Gus Malzahn (35-18, 5th year)
Key Arrivals: QB Jarrett Stidham, OL Calvin Ashley, OL Wilson Bell, OL Casey Dunn, WDE Markaviest Bryant, ILB Tadarian Moultry
Key Departures: DT Montravius Adams, DE Carl Lawson, S Rudy Ford, CB Joshua Holsey, S Marlon Character Jr.
Previewing Auburn’s Offense
The Tigers’ offense is receiving a lot of hype due in large part to its new quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, who transferred from Baylor. While playing for the Bears, Stidham put up impressive numbers in limited action, passing for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing 69% of his passes in 10 games. He was especially impressive in his last three games, averaging 311 passing yards per game and throwing for six touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 62% of his passes.
It seems that Stidham has picked up right where he left off, which is good news for a team that had trouble at the quarterback position in 2016. Sean White was the best quarterback statistically, but he only threw for nine touchdown passes and struggled mightily in his last two games, not even completing 50% of his passes. As a result of the quarterback play, the receivers did not put up big numbers.
Tony Stevens led all Auburn receivers with 487 receiving yards and three touchdowns. However, the Tigers do have a number of receivers who could potentially break out this year, including Nate Craig-Myers, who was the seventh best player at his position in the class of 2016, per 247sports. It will ultimately come down to the play of the quarterback though.
A big reason why Auburn received little production from its passing offense was because it leaned heavily on its run game. Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson formed one of the best running back duos in the SEC, rushing for a combined 2,119 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both players are coming back, which is tremendous news for the Tigers. If Stidham can live up to his offseason hype and Pettway and Johnson repeat their production from last year, it could be a fun year in The Plains.
Previewing Auburn’s Defense
Kevin Steele proved to be a home run hire for Auburn last year. In 2015, the Tigers struggled defensively under now-South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, ranking 91st in total defense (422 yards per game) and 69th in scoring defense (27.3 points per game). However, under Steele in 2016, the defense improved tremendously, ranking 20th in total defense (348 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (15.6 points per game). Lawson and Adams both paved the way for Auburn’s front seven with nine and five sacks, respectively, while Holsey and Carlton Davis patrolled the backfield with 10 passes defended apiece.
Auburn’s defense will have to replace some of its production from last year. Lawson, Adams and Holsey all moved on to the NFL. Davis, however, is staying. That’s good news for a defensive backfield that’s also losing Ford.
Auburn has a number of players who can step up for its defense in 2017, including DT Derrick Brown and Bryant. Brown was one of the best high school players in the nation. He ranked as the ninth best overall player in the class of 2016. Brown had limited production in 2016, only getting one sack. However, with the departure of Adams, Brown could see his production increase significantly this year.
Three Key Games
1. Sept. 9 at Clemson: Any game against the defending champs will be big. While Clemson is losing its key offensive trio (QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman), it should boast one of the best defenses in the country. Though the loss of heart-and-soul linebacker Ben Boulware is big, Clemson is returning one of the most formidable DT duos in the country in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. The two teams played each other last year, with Clemson emerging victorious 19-13. With Clemson’s question marks on offense as well as both teams possessing solid defenses, it could be a low-scoring affair yet again.
2. Nov. 11 against Georgia: The Georgia Bulldogs are a wildly popular pick to win the SEC East. Jacob Eason, who was a five-star quarterback in high school, could have a potential breakout year while running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who combined for 1,970 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, are returning. In addition, the defense, which was fourth in yards allowed in the SEC last year, is returning 10 starters. With the talent and potential that Georgia has, the Tigers will have their hands full.
3. Nov. 25 against Alabama: The Iron Bowl, a game rich in tradition, has been one-sided lately. The Crimson Tide have won the last three matchups and, on paper, they look a lot stronger than the Tigers. The defending SEC champs and 2017 College Football Playoff finalists will be spearheaded by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had one of the most spectacular freshman seasons in recent memory. In addition, the defense, which never rebuilds but always reloads under head coach Nick Saban, should once again be one of the best units in the country. That being said, the Tigers should not be counted out. If Stidham pans out, they could surprise a lot of people.
The Auburn Tigers are one of the most intriguing teams entering college football in 2017. The offense has plenty of potential while the defense could once again be a strong unit even with some of its key losses. Nothing will come easy this year, though. The Tigers are facing a very tough schedule and if they stumble right out of the gate, it could be a long season for them. My final prediction for Auburn is 8-4, with losses coming against Clemson, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama.
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