If a normal slate of eight SEC games was not difficult enough, the college football gods opened up the gates adding a couple more for Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers to navigate through during the 2020 season. In a season already chalked full of uncertainty on The Plains after a 9-4 (5-3 SEC) campaign a year ago, what will or will not be acceptable to the fanbase during a new 10-game conference-only schedule?
Entering the 2019 season, hopes were high in Auburn with a veteran offensive line returning, rising running backs on the roster, and a five-star freshman dual-threat quarterback ready to stake his collegiate glory. Backing the Malzahn designed offense was an all-world caliber defense led by four future 2020 NFL Draft picks, three of whom went in the first two rounds. All was promising until road games to Florida and LSU and a tough loss at home to Georgia upended any hopes of an SEC West title. The 31-24 Outback Bowl loss to Minnesota put an even bigger bull's eye on Malzahn's back from the large group of Auburn faithful who had lost faith in his coaching abilities.
Jumping to a new season that is supposed to be full of optimism, Auburn's road ahead looks daunting. Fans watching the games at home will be asking, "who is that" a lot, with only three starters returning on offense. The same holds true for the defense, with just four veterans back. If there is any silver lining of hope, all the counted-upon new starters consist largely of juniors well-schooled in the Tigers' system. Adding to that hope, those juniors are from a No. 12 nationally ranked 2018 recruiting class filled with 15 former four-star players and the No. 9 slotted 2017 class.
The revamped schedule for Auburn has bright spots and potential trap doors. From the jump, the Tigers will be tested at home by a talented Kentucky team, only to go onto the road to face SEC East fixture Georgia. A three-game stint against Arkansas, South Carolina, and Ole Miss could build momentum before welcoming an LSU squad seeking to reconstruct their roster as well. A road trip to Starkville will have a different look and feel with Mike Leach introducing the SEC to his brand of Air Raid football. The final three games are not easy with a resurgent Tennessee squad, the annual Iron Bowl at Bryant-Denny, and a season-closing game in Jordan-Hare against a veteran-laden Texas A&M squad.
Auburn Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Tigers are an interesting team to watch in the SEC West. Coach Gus Malzahn’s squad returns only seven starters, but as usual, talent isn’t the issue in the program. However, there are some glaring concerns headed into the opener. Auburn’s offensive line returns just one starter, and new play-caller Chad Morris needs to get more out of quarterback Bo Nix. The defensive line and secondary need to be retooled, but the level of concern on this side of the ball is small considering the work coordinator Kevin Steele has done the last few years. If the offensive line and Nix jell with Morris, Auburn can make a run at second place in the SEC West. However, the schedule didn’t do the Tigers any favors. The opener against Kentucky isn’t easy, and road trips to Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama await, along with home games versus Texas A&M and LSU.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Auburn has to replace 15 starters, which is one more than defending national champion LSU (if you don't include players who have since opted out), so this is a team that is light on experience. And while the Tigers still have plenty of talent on the roster, there also are plenty of question marks, starting with quarterback Bo Nix. If Nix takes a step forward and the offensive line comes together, Gus Malzahn's offense could be dangerous. But those ifs combined with a defense that is really strong at linebacker but a work in progress elsewhere means Auburn will experience some growing pains this season. The Tigers will still post a winning record but that probably won't be enough to satisfy Malzahn's critics.
Ryan Wright (@RyanWrightRNG)
If Auburn lost four games a season ago with 13 starters back but only returns seven on the roster for the 2020 season... what can the Auburn fanbase expect? The Tigers could be better than advertised and take advantage of teams that are also rebuilding their rosters, like Georgia and LSU, but if a sneaky good Kentucky team shocks all in the season opener, all could roll downhill from there. This offense averaged 33.2 points per game last season, but it didn't feel like it. If in a shootout with a team like Mississippi State happens, where will the points come from on the roster? A successful season all hinges on how well Auburn's offensive line plays.