Auburn Football Preview: The One in Which I Call Auburn the SEC’s Second-Best Team and Auburn Fans Call Me Butt-Hurt
DudeYouCrazy Preseason SEC Ranking: 2
The 2014 Auburn Tigers in One Question
When does karma become a factor?
Yes, I’m Trolling in the Deep Right Now
I hate Auburn. You all know this. The day Auburn does things the right way, contends for a national championship with a quarterback that was never in trouble at a rival SEC school and offers punishment on par with what’s right is the day my hatred subsides. That’s also the day hell freezes over.
This summer, Nick Marshall (Georgia fans know him as the player involved in the theft of teammates’ property when he was a Bulldog) was cited for marijuana possession. As punishment, the player with a squeaky-clean past who apparently left Georgia just because he wanted to play quarterback (not because he was dismissed) will miss at least one snap in the season-opener against Arkansas.
That’s punishment. That’s Auburn.
I’m not going to waste time detailing all the allegations from the past decade or so and the validity of claims surrounding the Tigers’ team, but you can read a non-inclusive summary here. It’s not pretty.
Georgia players make headlines for their petty check fraud crimes and driving with suspended licenses. Give me those alleged shortcomings over Auburn’s transgressions any day.
I say all of this to drive home the notion that Auburn is long overdue for a letdown. The miraculous 2013 season was certifiably undeserved. That luck couldn’t have happened to a less deserving program.
In football terms, Auburn was two once-in-a-lifetime plays away from ending the 2013 season with a 9-3 mark and heading to a Chick-fil-A Bowl. In karmic terms, that’s got to even out at some point. Doesn’t it?
Lots Coming Back On Offense
Auburn has a lot coming back. Quarterback Nick Marshall was an unknown quantity this time last season, but now he’s a household name. He threw for just shy of 2,000 yards and 14 TDs last year while running for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs.
Tre Mason is gone and takes with him over 1,800 yards and 23 TDs. The general consensus is that the Gus Bus will roll on just fine without him. That may be the case, but let’s remember that Mason was really, really good in 2013. Let’s also take a moment to recall that Malzahn-orchestrated offenses haven’t always been as glorious as they were last year.
We like to remember the teams that contended for national titles, but Malzahn was coordinator in 2009 when Auburn averaged 25 points per game in SEC play and only surpassed 24 points in a conference game on two occasions (Mississippi State and Ole Miss). That team finished 3-5 in the SEC.
In 2011, Auburn’s offense boasted the following point totals:
That’s about as mediocre and inconsistent as it comes. Gus Malzahn ran that offense.
In 2012, Malzahn’s went to Arkansas State as a head coach. The Wolfpack’s offense (led by Rhett Lashlee, who is now Auburn’s OC) made a mockery of the Sun Belt Conference. So there’s that.
Understand me: I’m not saying Malzahn/Lashlee can’t orchestrate a high-powered offense. They obviously did that last year. I am saying, however, that last year’s offense is not the only type of product these two gurus have ever fielded.
So I don’t think we’re quite at a point where we can comfortably say that losses like Mason and Greg Robinson (the 2nd overall selection in the NFL Draft) are meaningless.
Auburn returns really impressive weapons at wide receiver, but as long as Marshall is only attempting 17 passes per game (his average in 2013) and completing less than 60% of them (59.4 last year), I’m not sure how worried foes are going to be about 10 combined completions to the likes of Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis and Quan Bray. Let’s give each of those guys two catches per game and 21.5 yards per catch (what Coates averaged last year in leading the SEC in YPC), and I don’t think defensive coordinators are pulling their hair out trying to prevent 172 yards through the air.
Which is exactly why the loss of Mason could become important. Mason got 317 carries last season for a reason. No other running back got more than 91 for the same reason. Mason was the best back there. Can he be replaced? Certainly. But this was a Heisman candidate. He ran the football 46 times against Missouri because he was the best player on the team. His 304 yards and four touchdowns confirmed that.
The bottom line is this: I don’t know how much better the offense is going to be in 2014.
There are three ways you could interpret that sentiment, all of which are equally defensible:
- I mean how could it be much better? It was already tremendous.
- Who knows what to expect from Gus? Maybe there’s a new ceiling we don’t know about.
- It probably needs to be better to contend for a national title.
Plausible justification #3 is especially true in light of what Auburn has on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps the greatest testament to the offense in 2013 is that Auburn overcame one of the less capable defenses in the conference to win the SEC. Consider point totals surrendered against conference foes contrasted to opponents’ SEC scoring averages.
Six of Auburn’s nine SEC foes worked the Tigers’ defense for more points than normal in SEC play.
That sentiment might matter as much as the departure of Dee Ford (10.5 sacks last year) and the injury to Carl Lawson (Ford’s projected replacement).
The general mediocrity of Auburn’s defense in 2013 may matter more than who’s back and who’s coming in.
Make no mistakes, Auburn will open the season 4-0. Sure Arkansas isn’t the easiest season-opener in the world, but Nick Marshall won’t be on the sideline for long. Furthermore, the trip to Kansas State in mid-September is not the pitfall that folks want it to be.
Things get interesting with the following stretch:
- October 4: LSU
- October 11: at Mississippi State
- October 25: South Carolina
- November 1: at Ole Miss
- November 8: Texas A&M
- November 15: at Georgia
If we take the “others receiving votes” spots in both the AP and Coaches polls, here’s how those teams rank:
|Team||AP Poll||Coaches Poll|
There’s no way Auburn makes it through that stretch unscathed. Equally unlikely: Auburn beating Alabama on the road. This is a 2-3 loss regular season for the Tigers, at best.
And that may be a reflection of the conference and luck running up as much as it is an indictment of this football team.
That’s all I got/