Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the Auburn Tigers.
Down the stretch of the 2017 season, the Auburn Tiger offense was borderline unstoppable. Except for a woeful performance in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers amassed over 400 yards of total offense in 5 straight games.
Running Back Kerryon Johnson caught fire and was the best running back in the SEC. The offensive line improved greatly, and Jarrett Stidham became an elite college quarterback by the end of the year.
However, Auburn enters the 2018 season with more questions than Head Coach Gus Malzahn would probably like on offense. Gone is Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway at running back along with 4 starting offense linemen.
For a team that is known for its run game, those departures are big causes for concern. But fear not, because not only does Stidham return, but his top 5 receivers are back as well.
Like Alabama, I expect Auburn’s passing numbers to take a sizable leap this season. While it took some time for Stidham to figure out SEC defenses, he still managed to complete 66% of his passes while notching over 3,000 yards passing.
It is Stidham’s year in 2018. I fully expect a season that might put him in New York as a Heisman finalist. But that’s if an offensive line with much less experience can stop the pass rush from lethal SEC defenses.
Also, junior Kam Martin will be given the reigns at halfback. Last season he averaged six yards a carry as Johnson’s backup so the Tigers should have a consistent ground attack again.
Kam Martin’s 1st carry of the game pic.twitter.com/5PONBFC3GM
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) November 18, 2017
Despite the loss of four starters on the defensive side of things, the Tigers still managed to return three out of their four leading tacklers from last season.
The biggest area of strength for the Auburn defense in 2018 will be the defensive line where the Tigers return 9 of their top 10 guys. Wowza. Headlined by studs like Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell this unit will without a doubt be one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the entire country.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) November 11, 2017
Linebacker is also a position of strength for the Tigers. They lose only one starter here and their top tacklers from last season return.
Everything so far seems ideal, but Auburn took some very heavy losses in the secondary like Alabama did. The Tigers lose three starters here so expect teams with talented quarterbacks to take advantage of this potential weakness.
Overall, Auburn is pretty much set on this side of the football. Their front seven will be one of the best in the conference. While their defensive backs are younger, they are still very talented. Last season the Tigers held opponents to 19 ppg. I don’t foresee much of a drop-off, if any, from that total this year.
Best Overall Player
The answer to this question is Jarrett Stidham and it’s not even close. In next year’s NFL Draft, Stidham will easily be selected within the first 15 picks. Even if the offensive line struggles, he will have a season better than last year.
With all his receivers returning, Stidham should set the SEC on fire this season. To me, I think he is the best NFL prospect at the quarterback position in college football right now.
— Rick Karle (@RickKarle) July 19, 2018
His accuracy is the best in the country even against SEC defenses, and his arm strength is not too far behind either. He has prototypical size at 6’3, 214 pounds, plus his character and leadership are unquestioned.
I know there will be other quarterbacks that will have great size and arm talent that will enter the 2019 Draft, but none of them will have the full resume that Stidham will possess.
If a team that needs a quarterback has the first overall selection, they should select Stidham in what would be one of the easiest choices in recent draft memory. I’m that high on this guy.
MMQB’s Albert Breer put out his early 2019 NFL Mock Draft!
NYJ: DE Nick Bosa
MIA: DT Ed Oliver
ARZ: OT Greg Little
BUF: DE Clelin Ferrell
CIN: DT Dexter Lawrence
CHI: OT Jonah Williams
WAS: QB Jarrett Stidham
CLE: DT Christian Wilkins
TB: CB Greedy Williams
IND: DL Rashan Gary pic.twitter.com/1iq7eGPQP4
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) July 12, 2018
Their schedule. Look, I know this isn’t an actual team weakness, but I must be honest here. On both sides of the football Auburn is almost a complete team. Yes, there are worries on the offensive line and secondary, but they have plenty of talent ready to go in those positions.
In many ways, this team is a weird mirror image of Alabama (see my last article for that).
Therefore, I think their real biggest weakness is their schedule which will be one of the toughest in the country. It honestly makes the Crimson Tide’s schedule look like a walk in the park (which it is).
In their first game of the season they play Washington on a neutral field for crying out loud. Many people east of the Mississippi don’t realize this now, but the Huskies are easily winning the Pac-12 this year. They have a great chance of making the playoff.
Teams favored to win every game according to ESPN’s FPI:
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) July 19, 2018
Combine that tough matchup with the fact that the Tigers play Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State ALL ON THE ROAD this season and you get a schedule that’s too tough for any team. Not to mention the fact that they would have to face Georgia twice to make the playoff, and we saw how well that went for Auburn last year.
Malzahn’s team easily has the talent not only to make the playoff, but to win it all. But with a schedule like that it will be very hard to do so.
Despite a tough schedule, I see Auburn winning nine or ten regular season games. With a loaded front seven and Stidham at quarterback I think the Tigers will find a way to win two games out of that brutal 4-game lineup against Washington, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi State.
The key for the Tigers will be winning the Iron Bowl. If they can best the Crimson Tide on the road then there is a chance they can make the SEC Championship with two losses especially if one of those defeats is against Washington.
Overall, Auburn is still loaded for this year and they will finish no lower than second in the SEC West. I think they are the third best team in the conference behind Georgia and Alabama.
— ESPN 105.1 The Zone (@ESPN1051TheZone) July 20, 2018
However, they will need a lot of luck to make the playoff considering that Alabama’s and Georgia’s schedules are a joke compared to what the Tigers have to deal with.
Enjoy this season near the top of the SEC West while you can Auburn fans. Because with the arrival of Jimbo Fisher in College Station and the coming departure of Stidham, the Tigers may not be near the top much longer.