Head Coach: Guz Malzahn
2016 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 SEC West
2016 Postseason results: Lost to Oklahoma 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl
2017 returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: 20/1
Odds to win 2017 SEC Championship Game: +685
Odds to Win 2017 SEC West Division: +465
Regular season wins: over 8 1/2 -155 / under 8 1/2 +135
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Last year, the Auburn Tigers began the season 1-2 then won six straight games. However, the season ended on a sour note as they lost three of the last four games including blowout losses to Iron Bowl rival Alabama and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to finish the season 8-5.
This year, the Tigers return a veteran team under coach Gus Malzahn with 16 starters back. They have the potential to contend with Alabama for the SEC West title and perhaps even a playoff spot. Here is a look at the Tigers on offense, defense, and special teams plus a look at the schedule and outlook.
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Auburn wasn’t terrible on offense. The Tigers averaged 441 total yards including 271 rushing yards per game. Auburn was #6 in rushing nationally. The passing game was nearly non-existent last year though. They look for more balance in 2017. The Tigers averaged 31 points per game. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee left for the same position at Connecticut. Malzahn hired Chip Lindsay as the new coordinator. He held the same position at Arizona State. The offense returns eight starters.
After sitting out last year, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham beat out incumbent Sean White for the quarterback job. Stidham, a sophomore threw for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and also added 2 rushing touchdowns while splitting time at Baylor in 2015. White completed 63.9% of his passes for 1,679 yards with 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He also rushed for 163 yards on 155 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III also took a few snaps last year. Johnson has graduated and Franklin transferred to Florida Atlantic.
A dynamic duo returns at running back. Kamryn Pettway had 209 carries for 1,224 yards with 7 touchdowns. Kerryon Johnson had 182 carries with 895 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus 17 catches for 125 yards. Kam Martin is only a sophomore but had 44 carries for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns. Franklin had 430 rushing yards on 46 carries with 2 touchdowns, so expect some reverses to come his way as well.
Leading receiver Tony Stevens is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. He had 31 catches for 487 yards and 3 touchdowns. The other top four receivers are back though. Darius Slayton had 15 catches for 292 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Davis had 12 catches for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns. Eli Stove had 23 catches for 224 yards. Ryan Davis had 25 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown. H-Back Jalen Harris only caught two passes last year but both went for touchdowns.
The line loses guard Alex Kozan and right tackle Robert Lett. The tackles will be the strength of the line with Braden Smith on the right and Darius James on the left. The guards will be sophomores Marquell Harrell and Mike Horton. Senior Austin Golson returns at center.
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Auburn allowed 362 yards per game on defense and 17 points. They were #7 nationally in points allowed. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele gets eight starters back. However, the losses are huge with defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams and safety Rudy Ford.
End Marlon Davidson started as a freshman last year and had 38 tackles, including six for loss. Dontavious Russell had 29 tackles. Andrew Williams will also start at tackle with Russell.
Linebacker Tre’ Williams had 67 tackles last year. Deshaun Davis had 63 tackles including 7 for loss. Paul Jmes will also start at linebacker.
Safety Tray Matthews had 76 tackles last year. Safety Stephen Roberts had 53 sacks and 2 interceptions last year. Cornerbacks Javaris Davis and Carlton Davis are experienced as well. Jeremiah Dinson will often play nickleback when they use five defensive backs.
Daniel Carlson is one of the most reliable kickers in the country. He made 28/32 field goals and all 44 extra points. Ian Shannon attempted only three punts last year. Look for Kerryon Johnson to return kicks and potentially punts as well.
Schedule and Outlook
Auburn opens with home games against Georgia Southern and Mercer sandwiched around a road game defending national champion Clemson. The Tigers open SEC play at Missouri before hosting Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Road trips to LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M are next. The Tigers close the season with three straight home games against Georgia, Louisiana-Monroe and Iron Bowl rival Alabama.
There is a serious gap between Alabama and rest of the SEC. Auburn might be the second best team in the conference but a brutal schedule could be their undoing. They look to be improved in the passing game with Stidham. Still, I don’t see anymore than 9 wins in the regular season. That might be good enough for a major bowl bid like last year, but that is about it.
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