Can Auburn Contend for a National Title in 2014?

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The Tigers return a most of their key players next season.

Can Auburn Contend for a National Title in 2014?

Auburn’s run at the national championship fell short in Pasadena, but the Tigers have nothing to be ashamed about after a 34-31 loss to Florida State. Auburn was a heavy underdog to the Seminoles, yet managed to lead 21-10 at halftime and held a small advantage with just over a minute to go.

The Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation this season, rebounding from a 3-9 record to an appearance in the National Championship.

With Gus Malzahn at the helm, Auburn isn’t going anywhere in the national landscape. The Tigers return most of their core from 2013, including quarterback Nick Marshall, who should be improved with another year to work under Malzahn. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson could declare for the NFL Draft, which would be a huge blow for the offense.

Auburn could be the favorite to win the SEC next season, but Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU and South Carolina will be in the mix. Winning 12 games and an appearance in the national title game was no fluke. The Tigers could be one of the top-five teams in most preseason polls next season.

Who’s Back: QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates, WR Ricardo Louis, LG Alex Kozan, RG Chad Slade, RT Avery Young, DE Carl Lawson, DT Montravius Adams, DE Ladarius Owens, DE Elijah Daniel, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB/S Robenson Therezie, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Jermaine Whitehead

Who’s Gone: FB Jay Prosch, DE Dee Ford, DT Nosa Eguae, LB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, S Ryan Smith, K Cody Parkey, P Steven Clark

NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes

2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Arkansas
Sept. 6 San Jose State
Sept. 20 at Kansas State
Sept. 27 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 4 LSU
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State
Oct. 25 South Carolina
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss
Nov. 8 Texas A&M
Nov. 15 at Georgia
Nov. 22 Samford
Nov. 29 at Alabama

Offensive Preview for 2014

One word: Loaded. And this unit could get even deeper if running back Tre Mason and offensive linemen Reese Dismukes and Greg Robinson return instead of exploring NFL options. Quarterback Nick Marshall should improve as a passer with another offseason to work under coach Gus Malzahn and coordinator Rhett Lashlee. A receiving corps that expects to return all of its key performers from 2013, including Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Sammie Coates, will help Marshall’s development. Top junior college prospect D’haquille Williams will also fight for time in the receiving corps. Even if Mason leaves, there’s plenty of talent at running back. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are effective options, and Marshall can pickup some of the slack on the ground. If Robinson and Dismukes return up front, the Tigers could have the best offensive line in the nation in 2014.

Defensive Preview for 2014

While Auburn’s offense will be one of the best in the nation, its defense still has some work to do. The Tigers allowed 5.9 yards per play in the regular season and gave up at least 20 points in each of their final five games. Ellis Johnson is an excellent coordinator, so this unit should see some improvement from being in the same scheme for another season. The defensive line must replace end Dee Ford and tackle Nosa Eguae, but talent isn’t an issue. Elijah Daniel, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams played as true freshmen and will benefit from another offseason in a college weight room. Expect all three to be impact players in 2014. Jake Holland departs at linebacker, but Cassanova McKinzy and hybrid linebacker/safety Robenson Therezie form a solid duo. And Justin Garrett will return to the lineup after missing 2013 due to injury. The secondary loses cornerback Chris Davis and safety Ryan Smith, and this unit should be the biggest area of concern for Johnson in spring practice.

Early outlook of playing for the national title in 2014

Very high. College football’s new playoff postseason format has added an extra curveball to determine a national champion, but Auburn should be an easy top-10 preseason selection. The Tigers have an improving quarterback in Nick Marshall, and even if Mason goes to the NFL, there’s plenty of talent in the supporting cast. Auburn has to improve on defense, but a promising trio of sophomores on the defensive line is a good place to start reloading on that side of the ball. If there’s something working against Auburn and its hopes to play for the national title once again, the schedule could be the one area to focus. The Tigers caught a few breaks to get to Pasadena in 2013 and those breaks could go the other way in 2014. Auburn has to play at Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and there’s a trip to Kansas State in non-conference action. The Tigers could have more overall talent on the roster next year. But repeating in the SEC is never easy. The last time a team won back-to-back titles in the SEC? Alabama in 2008-09. With the SEC East facing a lot of uncertainty, it would not be a surprise if Alabama and Auburn are once again the top two teams from the SEC next year.

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