Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
2018 Record: 8-5, 3-5 Conference
Bowl: 63-14 win over Purdue at Music City Bowl
O/U 7.5 wins (O -140, U +110)
To Make Final 4: Yes +1000, No -2500
Auburn had the bar set high with a top-10 ranking in preseason polls in 2018, but it could not quite live up to those expectations. Eight wins is hardly horrible, but it is a far cry from the elite team that pundits expected the Tigers to be. Gus Malzahn hit the hot seat, but he survived to coach another year. With an unproven QB and no great options to turn to, that seat could be fiery again this year. The Tigers ranked No. 79 in total offense last year with just 389.9 yards per game, which was down from 451.6 in 2017. Auburn does have talent defensively, but with an offense so riddled with question marks, regression seems like a surety—as does Malzahn’s job being up for grabs when this season ends.
Malzahn is going to be scrambling to figure out what he can do with the QB position. Jarrett Stidham cashed in his chips and headed to the NFL. The group Malzahn has as options are entirely inexperienced. Malik Willis was the primary backup last year, but he has thrown a mere 14 passes in his NCAA career, often looking clueless while he was on the field. Joey Gatewood ostensibly appears to be a great QB, but he is just a redshirt freshman with no snaps to his name. Bo Nix was a five-star recruit, and probably the eventual answer, but he is not ready yet, either.
Auburn also did not have a premier backfield last year, lacking a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time in over 10 years. The offensive line can take some of that blame, or even a lot of it, but expect JaTarvious Whitlow to be the featured back after rushing for 787 yards last year, along with six TDs. Cam Martin and Shaun Shivers are both solid as No. 2 options, but there really are no premier running backs unless Whitlow takes a leap to the elite that most do not anticipate coming.
The Tigers also lost its top two wideouts. The receiving core, however, may still be better this year. Anthony Schwartz had seven TDs and Seth Williams had 534 yards and five TDs. Both were just freshmen, and they should make relatively strong leaps in their second seasons. Eli Stove and Will Hastings missed a lot of time due to injury but are solid depth anyway.
The OL returns all five starters, but the group was not even decent last year. Prince Tega Wanogho and Marquel Harrell both are two stars of it, but it will have to improve vastly because the inexperience at QB may be a sheer disaster waiting to happen if not.
The Tigers are strong on the DL. Perhaps even too strong. The return of Brown and Davidson for their senior seasons assures a level of talent not matched by many other teams in the NCAA. Nick Coe is a great edge rusher and led the team with seven sacks last season. Auburn also brought in a host of recruits in 2019 that will add depth until they are ready to star, too. The DL has to be great, simply if for the fact that the Linebacking group has a ton of turnover.
ILB Deshaun Davis had 116 tackles last year, and he is gone, expected to be replaced by KJ Britt. Five-star recruit Owen Pappoe should be a starter from day one or at least very early in the season. The secondary is among the best in the SEC with Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson two of the top safeties. The cornerback has some unknown players, but Noah Igbinoghene, Javaris Davis, and Christian Tutt should be decent once they adapt to the schemes.
Arryn Siposs was a very good punter with a 44.2-yard average. Anders Carlson hit just 15 of 25 field goals, though. Igbinoghene and Whitlow were great return options last year, but Auburn will probably look to Tutt to handle the punt returns.
Auburn’s defense will not be enough to compensate for the abundant questions in its offensive unit. Expect coaching frustrations to reach a new high since expectations have not settled down from last year’s high preseason rankings. Many are still clinging to the notion this is an elite football team, but it may be on the brink of another overhaul and rebuild following this season.
Prediction: 7 wins (under)