2016 SEC West Preview: Auburn Tigers

Auburn needs some production on the offensive side of the ball, but can their defense carry them to a decent 2016 season?

Auburn huddle. Photo courtesy of Flickr. This photo was obtained using creativecommons.org

Last year spelled disaster for Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers.

After being picked to win the conference during SEC media day, the Tigers stumbled to a 7-6 record, winning just two games in conference play.

No one disappointed more than quarterback Jeremy Johnson. He was considered by many to be a Heisman candidate during the preseason, but instead was benched for poor play before the fourth game of the season.

Auburn also has to find a replacement in their backfield. Junior running back Peyton Barber opted to enter the draft and highly touted underclassmen Racean ‘Roc’ Thomas transferred this offseason.

Strengths

In terms of star power on the defensive side of the ball, Auburn is loaded with it. It starts with new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele who came over from LSU.  He will also have a healthy All-SEC defensive lineman Carl Lawson, who looks to improve from his shaky 2015 season where he missed six games.

Although they will have to replace linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, it’ll provide a great opportunity for young guys to step up and prove themselves in Steele’s new system.

Auburn also returns cornerback Carlton Davis, who was phenomenal last season. In his freshman campaign, Davis finished sixth on the team with 56 total tackles.

Weaknesses

Simply put, Auburn has too many question marks on offense. Head coach Gus Malzahn is known for being an offensive wizard, so there is still some hope they can be dominant. However, we don’t even know who their starting quarterback will be yet. Additionally, they have to replace their most productive running back Peyton Barber and wide receiver Ricardo Lewis.

Another question mark is their depth on both sides of the ball. They recruited well over the past couple of years, so there should be some talent in the fold to replace them. But injuries could possibly derail their 2016 campaign.

If Malzahn’s offense doesn’t find its way this fall, he could potentially be on the hot seat.

Players to watch

S Jonathan ‘Rudy’ Ford, Sr.- Auburn’s leading tackler in 2015 will look to follow up on his strong season in 2016. Kevin Steele primarily runs a 4-2-5, which prominently features this nickel back, so look for Ford to be a leader on the field and in the locker room.

QB Jeremy Johnson, Jr. – Although he was benched last season, he did make his return later in the year, splitting reps with Sean White. However, Auburn also signed transfer John Franklin III out of East Mississippi, who could compete for the starting job as well.

Athletically, Johnson has all the tools- a cannon for an arm and the ability to scramble. Most of his issues came from mental errors. Too often he made poor reads that resulted in turnovers. Hopefully with another year under his belt, Johnson can take the reins and lead this Auburn offense.

Games to watch

Sept. 3 vs Clemson – In what could be the biggest week of college football this season, Auburn faces Heisman favorite DeShaun Watson and the top ranked Clemson Tigers. The good news is that nobody expects Auburn to win, which means they can rally their players in that underdog role. We know in college football that anything can happen. Maybe with a few lucky bounces, Auburn can inspire an upset.

Nov. 26 @ Alabama – The Iron Bowl is the biggest rivalry in college football and this will be a huge measuring stick when viewing the season as a whole for the Tigers. Auburn squeaked out a miracle in the past with the ‘Kick 6’ two years ago. It might take another epically large phenomenon to beat the Tide this year.

Prediction 

8-4 (5-3 SEC)

Losses :  vs Clemson, vs LSU, @ Ole Miss and @ Alabama

Edited by Jordan Dajani

Featured image by Tammy Anthony Baker