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2019 SEC Football Preview

2019 SEC Season Preview: Auburn Tigers

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The spotlight isn’t necessarily shining on Auburn this year. That usually means they might be more dangerous than they appear.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic - Auburn v Washington Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Uproarious hype came along with the Auburn Tigers during their run through the 2018 season. Things didn’t go the way they planned though. The team went 7-5 with a 3-5 mark in SEC play, falling to the likes of the LSU Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide. And perhaps the most maddening loss was to the Tennessee Volunteers, especially since it was at Jordan-Hare.

The defense played somewhat well, although their yardage numbers were something to scoff at. Points per game wise, they held teams to 19.2 points on average, but they were not a particularly fearsome unit. The offense was perhaps even more disappointing. Jarrett Stidham didn’t take the steps forward that many experts thought he would. 47 QBs nationwide had a higher Y/A than Stidham and 37 had a higher AY/A than him. The rushing attack was closer to average than above average, this from both a YPG and a YPC standpoint.

As they enter the 2019 season, the Tigers have let everyone’s guard down. Not many are thinking big things for them this year. While they start the season in the Top 25, other teams in the West — Alabama, LSU and the Texas A&M Aggies — have all the hype around them. We’ve learned in the past though that when teams least expect it, Auburn seems to surprise and pounce on everyone. Will that happen again this year? Only time will tell.


OFFENSE

Commanding the ship offensively will be Bo Nix . The Under Armour All-American’s last name has plenty of familiarity around The Plains of course. Nix’s father Patrick was a standout himself, so this true freshman has lots of hype to live up to. And that’s just from that perspective.

Nix is a five-star recruit and was ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports Composite coming into this year. He’s ahead of the likes of Jayden Daniels (Arizona State Sun Devils), Sam Howell (North Carolina Tar Heels) and Taisun Phommachanh (Clemson Tigers) among others.

The only QB, in general, who’s ahead of Nix is Oklahoma Sooners pro-style commit Spencer Rattler, a five-star player himself, as Rattler is ranked 11th in the 2019 recruiting rankings.

This is relatively newfound territory for Auburn. The Tigers haven’t started a true freshman at QB in decades, and there’s definitely been a good amount of QB talent that’s flowed through the program since the last time it happened.

And truth be told, there’s not much experience behind him on the depth chart either. Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg are the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks right now. Both are redshirt freshmen. Youth is going to be the major storyline at QB, which could make for some up-and-down play if Nix doesn’t adjust well right away. If he does though, he certainly has the talent to flourish.

The good news for Nix is that he has a boatload of experience backing him up. The offensive line from left to right is littered with seniors. Prince Tega Wanogho, Marquel Harrell, Kaleb Kim, Mike Horton and Jack Driscoll all are starting in Week 1, and that’s five seniors right there. Bailey Sharp, the sixth senior on the line, will be playing the role of backup behind Wanogho.

They’ll have sophomores (Tashawn Manning, Nick Brahms and Brodarious Hamm) and a redshirt freshman (Jalil Irvin) backing up the rest, so if things break down there could be an issue. But heading into the season, this Auburn line is one of the most experienced in the sport.

It’s true that the Auburn running game disappointed a bit last year. The good news is that there’s likely nowhere to go but up. Especially considering that damn near everybody is back this season. The three top rushers from last year — JaTarvious Whitlow, Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers — have all returned for 2019. Malik Miller, who had just 19 carries a year ago, will also be around this year. Four-star recruit D.J. Williams made it onto the depth chart for Week 1, as did former four-star recruit Harold Joiner, who redshirted last year.

It is entirely possible that all six get burn at some point or another this year. Hey, did we mention who Auburn’s running backs coach is this year? Does the name Cadillac Williams ring a bell? Anyhow, running back is definitely a position of strength from a depth perspective this year for the Tigers. With an experienced line ahead of them, projecting an upward trajectory for them is probably a safe bet.

Delving into the wide receiver position, there will be a bit of a transition period here. Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis, the team’s leading receivers from a season ago, departed for the NFL. The third and fourth-leading receivers are around though, as Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz come back for their sophomore seasons. Both played very well as freshmen and did the best that they could.

The team will be happy to have Eli Stove back. Stove is healthy now after being hampered all year long by injuries. The same can be said about Will Hastings, who’s back after tearing his ACL a year ago. So it’s clear that Nix will have some talent to toss the ball to. Sal Cannella will be here too, though the senior had just 12 receptions a season ago, but likely should see an increase.

Bo will have an assembly of experienced talent around him. The Tigers offense might not be a Ferrari, but the youngster will have the keys to a very solid group around him. The focus will be on him from the opening salvo onwards, and they will go as far as he takes them.


DEFENSE

Auburn’s defensive line is a mean unit to say the least. There is a lot of experience up front here. Nine of the 11 players listed on the initial depth chart for the defensive line are juniors or seniors. The only ‘youngsters’ on the chart are sophomore Coynis Miller Jr. and freshman Derick Hall, a four-star recruit out of Gulfport, Mississippi.

The first player who comes to mind when you talk about Auburn’s defense is Derrick Brown . The senior defensive tackle is a star and you shouldn’t be surprised if he lands on the All-SEC team by the end of the. year. Big Kat Bryant is a damn good player himself, as is Nick Coe, who’ll be splitting some time between being a defensive tackle and defensive end AND linebacker if the depth chart is to be believed. Versatility much? Tyrone Turesdell and Marlon Davidson are no slouches themselves either. And I mean, hey, Rodney Garner sure knows what he’s doing, doesn’t he?

From a talent perspective, this is one of the best defensive lines in the entire nation, let alone the SEC. They’ll be wreaking havoc all year along, especially Brown.

There is some transition when it comes to the linebacker position. Darrell Williams, Deshaun Davis and Montavious Atkinson are all gone, all of whom racked up significant tackle numbers a season ago. They’ve got some good raw talent to do that replacing though. Coe may be a factor, as could fellow upperclassman Chandler Wooten. Up the middle, K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten will likely get some burn. Then there’s the other outside linebacker spot, occupied by Owen Pappoe.

Pappoe is the centerpiece of Auburn’s 2019 recruiting class. Ranked 25th in the nation overall, the Loganville, Georgia native is the best outside linebacker in the nation and in the Top 5 in the talent-rich state of Georgia (4th overall). He has a boatload of talent in him and could very well make an immediate impact from the first time he sees the field. There will be plenty of attention placed on him for sure.

While defensive back Jamel Dean left for the NFL, the rest of the secondary that remains is a very seasoned group. Four of the five starters on the depth chart are either juniors or seniors, with sophomore Christian Tutt being the lone player of his ilk listed at the top of his position (Nickel CB). Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis are leading their respective cornerback positions. In the back, seniors Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas will play the roles of free and strong safeties. There’s some good depth behind them in former four-star recruits Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood.

While the linebackers might be the “worst” unit on the group here, there’s still talent all over the place, especially with Pappoe on that aforementioned LB corp. The D-Line is the biggest position of strength maybe on the entire time and should no doubt cause trouble for any and everyone they face.


SCHEDULE

It’s hardly ever easy for Auburn in the SEC. But this year is pretty wild.

Off the bat, they get the Oregon Ducks in a neutral site game for Week 1. The Ducks possess one of the best QBs in the nation in Justin Herbert and the best offensive line in the Pac-12. That aforementioned great defensive line for Auburn will be put right to the test against the likes of Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson, Dallas Warmack and Calvin Throckmorton. Nix will be going against All-Pac-12 linebacker Troy Dye and a pretty talented secondary, headed by Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir, who has already made his feelings known about Nix starting in this Week 1 showdown.

Auburn gets some respite in Week 2 and Week 3, as they’ll face the Tulane Green Wave and Kent State Golden Flashes. From there though, they have to run the gamut. An absurd four of their next five games are on the road, as they have to travel to play Texas A&M, the Florida Gators, the Arkansas Razorbacks and LSU. In fact, that Gators-Hogs-Tigers stretch is in back-to-back-to-back games, with a bye sandwiched between the Florida and Arkansas game. Their lone home game? They’ll welcome Mississippi State to town on September 28.

November plays nicely for them as they have four games at home. Of course, two of those games are against mighty Georgia and Alabama, so how does this really benefit them? Especially since Georgia and Alabama come to town in two of the final three weeks of the season.


PROJECTION

This is a mighty talented Auburn team. Even the youngsters who’ll have the spotlight on them in Nix and Pappoe are five-star recruits. There’s not a lot of attention on them, and as we’ve seen in the past, those tend to lead towards more dangerous Auburn teams than we’ve seen before when they have hype surrounding them.

That being said... that is a mighty tough schedule. Especially one where a youngster, no matter who it is under center, is tasked with navigating through it. I foresee this being a better season than last year. But just based on SOS in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if this team is “better” than their record may show by year’s end.

Oregon - L
Tulane - W
Kent State - W
at Texas A&M - W
Mississippi State - W
at Florida - L
at Arkansas - W
at LSU - L
Ole Miss - W
Georgia - W
Samford - W
Alabama - L

Projection: 8-4, 5-3 SEC