Head Coach: Guz Malzahn
2014 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC West
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Wisconsin 34-31 (OT) in Outback Bowl
2015 returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 15/1
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 19/4
Odds to Win 2015 SEC West Division: 7/2
Regular season wins: over 8 -160 / under 8 +130
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Two seasons ago, Auburn narrowly lost to Florida State in the BCS Championship game. Last year, the Tigers regressed with a disappointing 8-5 season. The Tigers would end up losing in overtime to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
This year, Auburn is expected to compete for both the SEC title and one of the four playoff spots. Eleven starters are back for coach Gus Malzahn, now in his second season.
Auburn averaged 485 yards per game on offense including 256 rushing yards, and 36 points a game. The Tigers were #27 or better nationally in all three categories. Coordinator Rhett Lashlee gets 5 starters back in 2015.
Quarterback Nick Marshall is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a cornerback. He passed for 2,532 yards with 20 touchdowns and 7 touchdowns, and he also rushed for 798 yards and 11 touchdowns. With Marshall gone, the Tigers will move from a zone-read attack to a more balanced offense. Junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson is more of a pocket passer. He takes over as the starter after taking some snaps last season. He threw for 436 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, and also rushed for a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Sean White will serve as the back-up.
The top three rushers, including Marshall, from last year are all in the NFL. Cameron Artis-Payne is now with the Carolina Panthers after rushing for 1,608 yards on 303 carries with 13 touchdowns, and also making 13 catches. Corey Grant is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars after rushing for 364 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also catching a touchdown pass. Sophomore Roc Thomas is back after rushing for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns and making 6 catches. He will compete with JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson for the starters carries. However, both will get significant carries to make up for the carries that Marshall got last year.
Receivers Sammie Coates (34 catches, 741 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Quan Bray (39 catches, 471 yards 4 touchdowns) are both in the NFL now. Coates is with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bray is with the Indianapolis Colts. D’haquille Williams is back after making 45 catches for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ricardo Louis is also back after making 21 catches for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also rushing for 220 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis, and sophomore Jason Smith will also get a lot of catches. Freshmen Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox will split time at the H-back position.
Officially only starting tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young are back on the line. However, six players who started at least one game are back in the fold. The line allowed only 15 sacks but Auburn didn’t pass a lot. The line did a good job opening up holes for the running backs and Marshall.
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The defense wasn’t terrible last year, but just average. The Tigers gave up 399 yards and 27 points per game. In each of the 5 losses, Auburn gave up at least 34 points. That isn’t good enough in the SEC and Malzahn fired coordinator Ellis Johnson and hired former Florida head coach Will Muschamp, just two weeks after he was fired by the Gators. Six starters are back for Muschamp. The Tigers look to become an elite defensive team, which didn’t even happen in their two trips to the BCS Championship game in the last several seasons.
The line returns tackles DaVonte Lambert and Montravius Adams. Carl Lawson returns from a torn ACL to play the Buck position, which is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position. The line needs more of a pass rush after gathering only 10 sacks in SEC play last season. Five star recruit Byron Cowart and Elijah Daniel will platoon at the other end.
Middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost on the outside are back to anchor the unit. Like the line, they need more of a pass rush.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones is back for his senior year after making six interceptions last year. Safety Johnathan Ford is also back and was one of the top three tacklers last season along with McKinzy and Frost. Former Georgia safety Tray Matthews was dismissed from the team for some off the field issues. After sitting out last year, he looks to start for Auburn and could be a star.
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Kicker Daniel Carlson made 18 of 24 field goals last year and is back for his sophomore season. Last year, he also handled the punting duties, but the Tigers recruited Ian Shannon as the new punter. Louis should return kicks and Marcus Davis will return punts.
Auburn opens the season against Louisville in Atlanta. Auburn closes September with home games against Jacksonville State and Mississippi State, sandwiched around a trip to LSU. October brings home games against San Jose State and Ole Miss, plus road games at Kentucky and Arkansas. In November, the Tigers have a road game at Texas A&M and three home games against Georgia, Idaho and Alabama. The Iron Bowl against Alabama could be a play-in game for the playoffs.
If the defense improves, there is no reason Auburn can’t contend for both the SEC and national titles. Road trips to LSU and Texas A&M will be tricky, as will home games against the Mississippi schools, Georgia and Alabama. Still I see at least 9 wins for Auburn.
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