Since the Ralph Jordan era in the 1960s and ‘70’s, the Auburn Tigers have given fans good reason to fill Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturdays. Jordan set the tone for the program in the modern era, advancing to seven consecutive bowl games, a run that was surpassed by Pat Dye’s nine straight from 1982-90 followed by Tommy Tuberville’s streak of eight in a row from 2000-07. With a streak of five consecutive postseason appearances on the resume, current head coach Gus Malzahn is now pushing the ceiling expectations of bowl games to national championship winners.
If the Tigers are to win their first national title since 2010, key players will be called upon to step up to take their game to the next level. The following is a list of five to watch as the roster realigns from a team that went 10-4 and won the SEC West following the departure of nine senior starters and four others who left early to enter the NFL draft.
Kam Martin, RB
The backfield duo of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway produced 1,696 rushing yards with 24 touchdowns in 2017. After the two declared early for the NFL, the next dynamic playmaker is needed. Based on experience, Martin should be the next breakout star running back for Auburn. Martin is quick, scurrying for 453 yards on 74 carries (6.1 ypc) with two scores in a backup role to Johnson and Pettway but is not a bruising, every-down type of ball carrier. Martin could be challenged by Malik Miller, Devan Barrett and incoming true freshmen tailbacks Asa Martin and Harold Joiner, so this spring is a fine time for him to make his claim to the top spot on the depth chart.
Calvin Ashley, RT
With senior linemen Darius James, Austin Golson and Braden Smith gone, starting spots up front are up for grabs. One spot at right tackle could be Ashley’s, if he is ready. Ashley was part of Auburn's 2017 recruiting class and now it's time for the five-star prospect to live up to expectations. Depth along the Tigers' offensive line in 2017 afforded Malzahn the opportunity to redshirt the 6-foot-6, 350-pounder. Now Ashley can compete for a starting job at either tackle spot.
Prince Tega Wanogho, LT
The potential anchor to the offensive line in 2018 is Wanogho (above, right). He made six starts at left tackle last season after seeing action in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Wanogho got starters snaps in SEC games against Missouri, Arkansas and LSU and in a non-conference showdown against Clemson, thus he knows what it takes to play at a high level against conference foes.
T.D. Moultry, LB
Moultry was one of the highest rated talents in the Tigers' 2017 recruiting class. His talents were too good to leave on the sidelines as a redshirt, as he appeared in 13 games last season. His overall action was limited with upperclassmen Paul James, Deshaun Davis and Tre’ Williams manning the linebacker spots, but this could be Moultry’s year to shine. Moultry has beefed up from 225 pounds during his senior year of high school to 240, ready to take on SEC running backs.
Anders Carlson, K
The Tigers lost several talented players from last year's team, but perhaps none as important as kicker Daniel Carlson. Carlson was a three-year Lou Groza finalist and holds 14 Auburn kicking records. Anders Carlson was brought in as part of the 2017 class to learn under his older brother, Daniel. Being in his brother’s shadow may be nothing new, but the intensity of the spotlight at Auburn to live up to expectations put forth by Daniel will be tough. Then again, it would be tough for anyone. Anders redshirted during the 2017 season. Life under the magnifying glass begins in spring practices.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.