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Auburn Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tigers' Schedule

Auburn Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tigers' Schedule

Auburn Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Tigers' Schedule

The 2018 season was a full-on roller-coaster ride for the Auburn Tigers and the War Eagle faithful. The campaign started off in style, knocking off then-No. 6 Washington, but a heartbreaking 22-21 loss to No. 12 LSU in Week 3 heralded the start of an up-and-down campaign. The good news is that the 63-14 Music City Bowl thumping of Purdue coupled with the experience gained and a dash of some fantastic freshman talent has the team and fan base excited about the upcoming 2019 season.

Related: Auburn Football Schedule

Last season's schedule was no cakewalk, filled with five teams that finished in the AP top 20 and four in the top five. The 2019 slate features all the SEC heavy hitters and swaps Washington for a rising Oregon program. But as luck would have it for head coach Gus Malzahn, the season ends with four consecutive home games bringing hope into the fold.

12. Nov. 23 vs. Samford

Fans from other Power 5 Conferences will scoff at seeing Samford on Auburn's schedule, but considering the context, as the Bulldogs from the FCS ranks are sandwiched between Georgia and Alabama.

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And don't let Samford's 6-5 record from last season fool you, these Bulldogs are a tough out. Their "money game" against Florida State last season was a near upset before falling 36-26 in Doak Campbell Stadium.

11. Sept. 14 vs. Kent State

Coming out of the MAC, the Golden Flashes had a flash-in-the-pan season, finishing things 2-10 (1-7 MAC). The 2018 season was Sean Lewis' first as head coach, so the question becomes how much improvement will Kent State show in 2019?

College Football Rankings: Kent State

The Golden Flashes made the trek from Northeast Ohio to SEC country last season, losing 38-17 to Ole Miss in Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium.

10. Sept. 7 vs. Tulane

The Green Wave turned in a 7-6 (5-3 AAC) season in 2018. Tulane found their footing in the second half of the season, winning five of their last six. The Green Wave had big wins over Memphis (40-24), South Florida (41-15), and Navy (29-28). Auburn fans are seeking a final score closer to the Ohio State contest, a 49-6 triumph by the home Buckeyes.

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Tulane gets an interesting challenge in their season opener going against FIU from Conference USA.

9. Oct. 19 at Arkansas

Year 1 in Fayetteville for head coach Chad Morris was a disaster. The Hogs finished 2-10, going winless (0-8) in the SEC. In Week 3, the Tigers had an easy 34-3 win over the Razorbacks in Jordan-Hare.

College football rankings: Arkansas

Auburn picks up the Hogs at the turn for the second half of the season after Arkansas faces Texas A&M and Kentucky in consecutive games with Alabama to follow, all of these coming on the road.

8. Nov. 2 vs. Ole Miss

The Rebels' offense was as prolific as any in the country in 2018 but did not get any help from the defense. The overall result was a 5-7 (1-7 SEC) record for head coach Matt Luke. The offseason brought changes with a new offensive coordinator in former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez and a new defensive coordinator in former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre.

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The Tigers trounced the Rebels 31-16 in Oxford. Will the coordinator changes produce a different result this year?

7. Sept. 28 vs. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs had the best defense in the land in 2018, holding opposing teams to 263 yards per game, but the bulk of that talent is off to the NFL. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has a rebuilding project on his hands this year. The same can be said for the offense under second-year head coach Joe Moorhead. The Bulldogs' offense was below par, especially for an offensive-minded head coach, tallying 397 yards per game. With starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald graduated and running back Aeris Williams trying to latch on with the Colts, the offense has work to do.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

The showdown against Auburn will be the Bulldogs' first true road game of the season. With a bye following seeing Tennessee afterward, chances are MSU will be ready for this one if possible.

6. Sept. 21 at Texas A&M

The Aggies were one of college football's surprise teams under head coach Jimbo Fisher last season, so what can A&M do in 2019? A&M posted a 9-4 (5-3 SEC) season, including a 28-24 loss to Auburn in Jordan-Hare, their last loss in the regular season. Texas A&M loses some key personnel on both sides of the ball and will sorely miss running back Trayveon Williams and tight end Jace Sternberger along with defensive tackle Kingsley Keke and linebacker Tyrel Dodson. The Aggies' offense should still be very dangerous with quarterback Kellen Mond back and what might be one of the best receiving corps in the SEC.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas A&M

In Week 2, the Aggies go on the road to face Clemson but get a breather the following week against FCS opponent Lamar. Arkansas awaits the following week. A&M is yet another team that will be ready for Auburn this season.

5. Nov. 16 vs. Georgia

Top to bottom, offense and/or defense, Georgia has built a balanced team that is deep every year. The 2018 squad was eight points away from making back-to-back appearances in the College Football Playoff, losing to Alabama (35-28) in the SEC Championship Game. This year's squad could be a contender yet again for an appearance in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

College football fans may be bewildered to see the Bulldogs showdown lower on the list, but it is for this reason. After a three-game road trip that could wear this Tigers team out, Auburn should get back to its winning ways at home against Ole Miss with Georgia on deck. An all-out effort can be put into this home game with FCS opponent Samford next. Georgia hosts Texas A&M after making the trip to Jordan-Hare.

4. Oct. 5 at Florida

Call it bad luck for Auburn and their fans, but to roll off Tennessee, after losing to the Volunteers (30-24), only to pick up a resurgent Florida team as its SEC East crossover opponent is tough. The Gators went 10-3 (5-3 SEC) last season, including an impressive, 41-15 victory over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Dan Mullen is one of the SEC's best head coaches and has another year to morph his offense into a top-notch squad.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

Could this be a trap game for Florida? With FCS opponent Towson visiting the Swamp before Auburn comes to town, the Gators will be on point. But this matchup leads into three straight on the road, starting with LSU before facing South Carolina and Georgia. Florida could get caught looking ahead.

3. Nov. 30 vs. Alabama

The Crimson Tide and the Iron Bowl needs no introduction. Year after year, no matter the status of either team, this is a "must-see" game for football fans. Alabama's 2019 schedule is easy, to say the least, with four total road games and one neutral-site matchup against Duke in Atlanta to open the campaign. The Tide host FCS opponent Western Carolina as their tune-up for Auburn.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

Alabama was not nice to their in-state brethren last season, unleashing a 52-21 beatdown in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide's schedule is so easy this year that many of their deficiencies from the latest NFL exodus should be masked unless Texas A&M, LSU, or Auburn can expose those cracks.

2. Aug. 31 vs. Oregon (Arlington, Texas)

SEC fans, watch out! Oregon is a program on the rise. The Ducks went 9-4 (5-4 Pac-12) last season with three close losses and one complete head-scratcher against Arizona. Oregon was young and still putting it all together under first-year head coach Mario Cristobal. Winning on the road was a challenge, but expect a deeper and more dangerous Oregon squad in 2019.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

Auburn fans may see games against Alabama, Florida, and Georgia as being "tougher" than Oregon, but this season opener in AT&T Stadium is significant. A loss here could spin the season out of control for the Tigers and put embattled head coach Gus Malzahn on a very short leash. A nice reminder: Auburn did beat eventual Pac-12 champion Washington in the opener last season, but by a narrow margin (21-16). Running back JaTarvious Whitlow saved the day with a game-winning, 10-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

1. Oct. 26 at LSU

LSU played one of the toughest schedules in the nation a year ago, coming out with a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) mark. These teams fought to the wire in a 22-21 affair with LSU storming back down 21-10 in the third quarter for the win in Jordan-Hare. Now, LSU has the look of a squad ready to make a run in 2019, even with All-Americans Greedy Williams and Devin White in the NFL. If early-season wins come on the road against Texas and at home vs. Florida, the entire country will be put on notice.

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LSU gets the "toughest" designation for Auburn as this game falls on the tail end of a stretch of three straight on the road for Auburn that starts with the Gators and includes Arkansas. By the time Gus Malzahn's team makes the trip to Baton Rouge his Tigers could be physically and/or mentally exhausted. LSU gets a bye following this one, even if it is to rest up for Alabama, potentially taking away a trap game scenario.

— 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, Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.