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2017 SEC Football Season Preview: Auburn Tigers

Will they live up to the hype?

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Confounded. It’s the word that best describes how most Auburn Tigers fans felt after the 2016 season.

For all of the bright spots, there were as many ‘smh’ moments. I will always rank Auburn’s loss to Florida State in the 2014 BCS National Championship as the most painful to watch. Last year’s losses to Clemson and Georgia may take silver and bronze though.

That being said, the 2017 season has all the ingredients to produce a drastically more favorable outcome. That, in itself, causes some anxiety for the Auburn fans who have been around for 20 or more years. The Tigers are known to underachieve when expectations are high. So, deep down, many fans feel uneasy about all the hype.

I’m not one to drink much Kool-Aid, but the more I think about it, the better I feel about this year’s Auburn Tigers. Earlier this week, I spoke with SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic about Auburn and what actually needs to happen for the Tigers to live up to the hype.


Offense with Jarrett Stidham and Chip Lindsey

If you don’t recognize these names, you’re either A) my husband or B) living under a rock. But how do these two additions actually make any difference for Auburn’s offense?

For starters, playcalling needs to be turned over to new OC Chip Lindsey. It is imperative for Lindsey to build trust with transfer QB Jarrett Stidham and the offense. Lindsey is being paid a cozy $700,000 salary to run the offense and head coach Gus Malzahn needs to trust him to do it. For this offense to run at its most effective pace, a rhythm has to be established and it needs to be Lindsey’s rhythm.

Running back duo Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson need no introduction. But what should we anticipate in the passing game? Auburn needs to stretch the field vertically, which should be doable. Stidham will have plenty of time to make his reads behind one of the best offensive lines in the country.

Expect to see wideout Nate Craig-Myers rack up his yards across all real estate, with tight end Jalen Harris carrying the load in the middle of the field. Lindsey shares Malzahn’s fondness for the TE/H-back position and the versatility it brings to the table. The more formations with the same personnel groupings, the better.

Most Auburn fans expected JUCO transfer Sal Cannella to be listed as a TE, but Wednesday’s depth chart has him sharing the no. 2 WR spot with Marquis McClain. Cannella packs 228 lbs. on a 6-foot-5 frame, so he will have the size advantage over most guys tasked with defending him.


Defense without Carl Lawson

Auburn’s defense was really good last year under veteran DC Kevin Steele. Despite what Baker Mayfield did to the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl, Auburn finished the season ranked 7th nationally in scoring defense, 11th in red zone defense and 28th in total defense.

This year they will take the field without Montravius Adams, Rudy Ford, Joshua Holsey and Carl Lawson. Of all those guys, Lawson will be missed the most. There is plenty of depth to hold down the middle of the defensive line, but who can cause havoc on the edge with Lawson gone?

Don’t be surprised to see a creative solution in either linebacker T.D. Moultry or Paul James III, but it could take some time to figure out the edge rush. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff left at the end of the 2016 season to take the defensive coordinator role at Ole Miss.

Veteran coach Greg Brown filled that spot in January 2017. Brown is an “old school” guy, much like Steele, so it will be business as usual for the guys in the secondary.


Special Teams

Senior Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the country. He only needs 10 points to unseat Wes Byrum as Auburn’s all-time leading scorer. The Tigers may eventually have to wander in the placekicker wilderness, but it won’t be this year.


Summary

I feel very confident that Auburn will beat Georgia Southern, Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana Monroe.

I feel pretty confident that Auburn will beat Clemson in (fake) Death Valley and LSU in (real) Death Valley.

The Texas A&M game in College Station is one that Auburn should win, but it also has all the characteristics of the annual “SEC Game That Auburn Should Win (But Doesn’t).”

I agree with Cole that Auburn will go into its November 11 game against Georgia with a chance to win the SEC West. Beat Georgia, beat Louisiana Monroe, beat Alabama and Auburn goes to Atlanta. I like the chances.