This is it. This is the season which will either make or break Gus Malzahn as Auburn University’s head football coach. Malzahn led the school to the BCS National Championship Game in his first season on the job, in 2013. The following three seasons have been either awful at worst or mediocre at best, certainly far below expectations. Now, though, comes a season in which Auburn seems to have the right pieces in place to make a big run. If Gus and his team can get the job done, opinions of him and his program will change. The road won’t be easy, but if Auburn performs the way many people think it should, the Tigers should enjoy a very productive and satisfying season.
How Did They End 2016
The Tigers’ defense did what it reasonably could, containing Alabama’s offense and playing hard in an Iron Bowl game the Crimson Tide won comfortably, but did not completely dominate. Auburn made Alabama work for every yard and point. Given that Auburn had suffered a lot of injuries at the skill positions, the effort actually was a source of encouragement. The bad loss suffered near the end of the 2016 season was the loss at Georgia. Auburn easily controlled the Bulldogs’ offense, but its own offense got shut down by Georgia. Losing to a rival team from the SEC East – the much weaker division when compared to the SEC West – represented a bitter pill for Auburn and Malzahn to swallow. The Sugar Bowl game against Oklahoma never set up well for Auburn, and suffering still more quarterback injuries in that game made it impossible to keep pace with the Sooners in the second half of that game. Auburn was unlucky to a point, but it was also plainly deficient last season.
Malzahn’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, surprised everyone by taking the same job at Connecticut. Many felt Lashlee would get a head coaching job. Instead, he settled for a coordinator position at a program much less prestigious than Auburn. When he left, Chip Lindsey was the guy Malzahn picked to replace Lashlee. Lindsey comes from Arizona State, where he made Manny Wilkins into an effective quarterback… only for Wilkins to get injured. Lindsey and Malzahn hope to have stability at quarterback this year, which leads to the next section:
Jarrett Stidham transferred from Baylor, where he spent some time leading the Bears’ high-powered offense under previous coach Art Briles. Stidham is an impressive natural athlete with running ability, but he is a strong pocket passer. He is what Auburn has needed out of a quarterback the last three years. If Stidham plays at a high level, everything else should come together for an Auburn program which might finally have the ultimate piece to the puzzle.
What To Expect From The Tigers This Year
Everything rides on Stidham. Malzahn has good offensive concepts, but his quarterback recruiting has suffered. Stidham was just what he and Auburn needed to become a championship contender. Auburn probably won’t beat Alabama, but if it can beat every other SEC team on its schedule, it will make a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Record Last 5 Seasons
Schedule and Outlook
The Tigers have five road games on the schedule compared to seven home games, which is a good sign. However, their schedule overall is not easy. This Auburn team will have to prove their legit to get to eight or nine wins. There just isn’t many cakewalks on the calendar when you have to go to Missouri, to LSU and to Arkansas, and also host Georgia and Alabama. Getting Ole Miss at home should a win, though, as they’re going through some issues. They’ll also beat Mercer and Georgia Southern, and probably take care of Mississippi State. So the question is, do you believe in this team? We do.
Auburn will lose to Alabama and Clemson but beat everyone else and make one of the four non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl games: Fiesta, Orange, Cotton or Peach.
Regular Season Win Total Prediction: Over 8.5
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