The Tigers rank No. 9 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2017.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is hoping that a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback are just what the Tigers need to help them take that next step and emerge as a threat to Alabama in the SEC West. The good news is they will have plenty of help, as the Tigers boast one of the top running back tandems in the country. The offense will need to lead the way, at least early on, with the defense having to replace three key pieces. Just like last year, Auburn has enough talent to remain in the hunt in college football's toughest conference. Is this the season the Tigers dethrone their archrivals and win the SEC title?
Previewing Auburn Football’s Offense for 2017
Consistency. That’s what head coach Gus Malzahn was in search of when he lured Chip Lindsey back from the desert. The former Arizona State offensive coordinator made a name for himself as a high school coach in Alabama and is charged with transforming Auburn’s offense from a flash in the pan to a consistent force. The running game should be in good hands with the return of SEC leading rusher Kamryn Pettway (in yards per game) and the ultra-versatile Kerryon Johnson.
The addition of junior college transfer and former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham (12 touchdowns, two interceptions at Baylor in 2015) should add more depth at quarterback. Returning starter Sean White was solid when he was healthy last year, but four injuries in two seasons — including a broken arm suffered in the Sugar Bowl — make it impossible to assume that he will be able to withstand a full season as the Tigers’ signal-caller. If Stidham can open up the offense on a consistent basis with his arm, the Tigers should achieve that much-needed balance and become an offensive power.
Stidham made a smooth transition to the new offense during spring practice.
“Some of the similarities that (Coach Lindsey) has with what I’ve done at Baylor, some of the deeper passing game, it’s been a lot of fun,” Stidham says. “A lot of it, I’ve done before. Kind of second nature with some of it. He brings a lot of excitement to the offensive room.”
Previewing Auburn Football’s Defense for 2017
There’s no question that the defense will take a step back without defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams and safety Rudy Ford. Making sure it’s only a small step back is coordinator Kevin Steele’s biggest challenge.
The defensive front is loaded with talented players such as end Marlon Davidson — who started as a true freshman — tackle Derrick Brown and end/tackle Byron Cowart. Who will step up and be the focal point like Lawson was, though? Deshaun Davis and Tre’ Williams are entrenched at linebacker, and Tray Matthews has seen it all throughout his career at Georgia and Auburn.
“We’ve got a defense coming back that has a lot of guys back with a lot of experience who were very successful and you know, just building a format,” Malzahn says. “In our league, there’s nothing like experience, especially quality experience. There’s been success, and when you look at our team, the thing I’m excited about is we’ve got a lot of experience back.”
The potential is there for this crew to be one of the SEC’s best, but some younger players up front have to grow up.
Previewing Auburn Football’s Specialists for 2017
There aren’t many kickers in the country more reliable than Daniel Carlson, and he returns after flirting with the NFL. Having a weapon like Carlson is huge for Malzahn, who can afford to take a few more chances with his play calling once the Tigers are in field goal range. Ian Shannon is an unknown at punter and is the biggest question mark. The Tigers have a host of candidates to fill the roles in the return game.
Auburn was in the College Football Playoff mix well into November last season before injuries took their toll. The core of that offense is back, along with seven of 11 starters on defense. The addition of Stidham and presence of a new voice in Lindsey should propel the Tigers into that same conversation in 2017. If they’re not, athletics director Jay Jacobs will have some tough decisions to make after the season. This Tigers team is too loaded to be an afterthought on the national level.
NATIONAL RANKING: 9
SEC WEST PREDICTION: 2
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