Can the Tigers return to a bowl game?
After a horrendous 3-9 record last year, change is the theme at Auburn this offseason.
Gene Chizik was fired after last season’s debacle, and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was hired as the Tigers’ new head coach.
Malzahn is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive minds and his one-year stint as Arkansas State’s head coach resulted in a 9-3 record.
Malzahn’s return should improve an offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game, while the addition of Ellis Johnson on defense should help a unit that has underachieved over the last few years.
Auburn plays road contests against Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee, so getting back to a bowl game won’t be easy. However, considering how well the Tigers have recruited over the last few seasons, there should be enough pieces in place for Malzahn to get Auburn to 6-6 or 7-5.
What will Auburn's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Auburn's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|8/31 Washington State|
|9/7 Arkansas State|
|9/14 Mississippi State|
|9/21 at LSU|
|10/5 Ole Miss|
|10/12 Western Carolina|
|10/19 at Texas A&M|
|11/2 at Arkansas|
|11/9 at Tennessee|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After hitting rock bottom last season, Auburn can only go up in 2013. There’s no shortage of talent on the Plains, as the Tigers averaged a top-10 recruiting class from 2008-12, and first-year coach Gus Malzahn inked a group that ranked No. 10 in 2013. Malzahn’s return should spark an offense that was dreadful last season, finishing 14th in the SEC in yards per game (305). Finding a quarterback is the top priority this fall, but until a No. 1 option emerges, the Tigers can lean on a solid running game and an offensive line that returns four starters. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was one of the offseason’s top assistant hires and immediate improvement is expected. Auburn has the talent to win eight games, but with the quarterback uncertainty, I think six is more realistic. And six wins with a bowl appearance would be a welcomed sight after a disastrous 3-9 season in 2012.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Auburn can't possibly be as bad as it was a year ago despite an improving SEC around them. Both sides of the ball should be dramatically improved with Gus Malzahn and Ellis Johnson now leading the way on The Plains. The running game and offensive line — both of which were recruited extremely well under Gene Chizik — will help whoever is under center and the defense should be able to force more turnovers. The schedule is downright nasty and how Auburn plays in swing games (Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee) will determine if this team returns to the postseason or not.
SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
Coming off an embarrassing 3-9 season, and everyone now aboard the Gus Bus, it’s time to make a bowl game. 2012 is a season Auburn would like to erase from the record books giving up the 2nd most YPG in the SEC and gaining the least. Check out these Rivals team recruiting rankings: 2009: 19th, 2010 4th, 2011: 7th, 2012: 8th. They have the talent, and now I feel they have the coach. And to the biggest question, QB. JUCO QB transfer Nick Marshall threw 19 TDs / 20 INTs last year and rushed for over 1,000 yards. Name to remember: Carl Lawson, DE.
The good news for Auburn fans - 2013 will be better than 2012. The bad news for Auburn fans - your team is still a long ways from returning to the top of the SEC. Regardless what Gus Malzahn does in his first season back on the Plains, it's probably fair to say that War Eagle nation is just happy it's him and no longer Gene Chizik calling the shots. If anything Malzahn should definitely help turn around an offense that was woefully unproductive last season, while Ellis Johnson returns to the SEC to do the same to the Tigers' defense. The Tigers will be a better team this fall, but that doesn't mean the results will be show up in the win-loss column. A bowl invite is possible, but to get there Auburn must go undefeated in non-conference play and either protect its home turf against the Mississippi schools or steal one on the road in Fayetteville, Ark. The more wins the Tigers can claim early on the better, especially with Georgia and Alabama lined up to close out the season.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
Auburn’s schedule has a somewhat favorable setup with beatable nonconference teams sprinkled into the SEC schedule. That should help the Tigers survive in the brutal SEC Western Division. The Mississippi State game is key for Auburn. If the Tigers win, they will be setup nicely to make a bowl game. Lose to Mississippi State and Auburn will have a difficult uphill climb. I have Ole Miss winning, but Auburn could upset the Rebels at home. Road games at Arkansas and Tennessee are both winnable for Auburn. Coach Gus Malzahn’s biggest focus right now should be finding his quarterback of the future and building the program through recruiting.
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