#SECPreviews- West: Ugh, #3 Auburn
Coming from ACC country, I was not indoctrinated with the proper hatred for Auburn in my childhood. They were largely irrelevant on the national stage throughout my childhood, as a quick scan of my brain pre-2010 really only registers the 2004 Cadillac Williams/Ronnie Brown/Jason Campbell team, which (lol) didn’t get a chance to play for a title even though it finished undefeated.
That worm has fully turned. Starting in 2010 with the fully hateable Cam Newton and Nick Fairley squad, I began an irrational loathing towards Auburn that has only escalated rapidly since starting and finishing my time in Athens.
Now, just…ugh. The lucky plays in 2013. The former Dawgs having successful careers there. The admittedly fun to watch offense. Now, Will Muschamp round two.
What Happened Last Year?
After a 5-0 start with impressive wins against Kansas State and LSU, the Tigers completely fell off the map. It was glorious. I realized they still finished with a respectable 8-5 record, but it may be a little bit deceiving.
A loss at Mississippi State was followed by a dangerously-close home win against South Carolina, who had a Hail Mary chance of tying the game as time expired. Speaking of close calls, they won at Ole Miss the next weekend by 4.
Then, finally, the levee broke. Home loss to Texas A&M. Blowout loss at Georgia in the second-most-fun-game-I’ve-seen-in-Sanford. A pedestrian win over Samford. A shootout loss at Alabama. And to top it all off, a nice Outback Bowl loss to an interim-coached Wisconsin team.
I’m selling on Auburn’s high preseason expectations (they got the most votes to win the SEC at Media Days despite not being picked to win the West). Those last eight games I mentioned? 0-8 against the spread. Hopefully, we have more ‘warm beagle’ to come in 2015.
I wanted to pick them lower. But, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on two factors: the possibility that Will Muschamp rights the ship on D (impact likely to be overrated opposite a HUNH offense), and the opinion that Jeremy Johnson adds the vertical passing game element that Nick Marshall largely did not provide.
Three Key Games
The overarching theme in these previews is that all of the SEC games are key. Having said that…
at Arkansas, Oct. 24: There’s a pretty good chance Auburn comes into this one 6-0 (3-0), making a road game against an up-and-comer like the Hawgs (who also do a pretty good job of controlling tempo) Verne and Gary production. It also opens a stretch that finishes with Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, and…
Georgia, Nov. 14: They had their manhood taken by the Dawgs last year. A win would put them 2-0 in the cross-divisional games, giving them hope for the West title if everything shakes out.
Alabama, Nov. 28: You mean to tell me that a battle of 4 of the last 6 national champions is still big news? How about that. The last time this matchup took place in Suburban Opelika was the kick-six game, so…yeah, top that please, Iron Bowl.
Five Players to Watch
DE Carl Lawson: He tore his ACL before the season last year, but was a freshman All-America as an SEC D-lineman. No small task. Muschamp’s hybrid 3-4/4-3 will call for Lawson to be the versatile point man.
FS Tray Matthews: Last time he had live action in Auburn, it didn’t go well (not linking the Prayer GIF again). He joins a secondary of three returning starters, and craptheirdefenseactuallylooksprettygoodonpaper.
QB Jeremy Johnson: The junior has played well in spot duty for two years, completing over 70% of his passes (and never an interception) in both 2013 and 2014. In the driver’s seat now, the only question I have is whether he can replicate Nick Marshall’s success running the ball.
WR Duke Williams: The scariest of the returning receivers, Williams burst onto the scene with 16.2 yards per catch, falling just 11 yards short of leading the Auburn team in receiving. With Sammie Coates and Quan Bray gone, he’s a safe bet for a 1000+ yard season.
LB’s Cassanova McKinzy/Kris Frost: Had to skip back to the D, because they’re going to help Lawson create a pass rush. Both were over 87 tackles and 6.5 for loss, both had interceptions, and both have been starters for two years now. The back seven is looking strong, unfortunately.