Kerryon Johnson emerged as one of the nation's top running backs for the SEC West champions
The Auburn Tigers have turned in some exciting college football seasons over the years and 2017 ranks among the best. Playing what many believe to be the toughest schedule in the nation, the Tigers pulled together a 10-3 overall record and went 7-1 in the SEC, with feather-in-the-cap wins over then-No. 24 Mississippi State, No. 2 Georgia, and a SEC West-clinching victory against archrival No. 1 Alabama. The Tigers fell just shy of an improbable run to the College Football Playoff this year with a SEC Championship Game loss to Georgia. With one more tough game left, the Peach Bowl against undefeated and No. 10 UCF on New Year’s Day, the Tigers have given the fans a lot to cheer about throughout the 2017 season already.
Through the big wins and tough losses, a lot of great football was played deserving of team awards for Auburn:
Offensive MVP: Kerryon Johnson, RB
Johnson was amazing in 2017, even in a shorted season. With fellow junior Kamryn Pettway expected to be the featured running back, Johnson broke loose for a SEC-leading 1,320 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns en route to first-team All-SEC honors. The stat line could have been even more impressive but a leg injury kept him out of contests against Clemson and Mercer early in the season and a shoulder injury limited him against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Defensive MVP: Jeff Holland, DE
The Tigers had a lot of candidates for defensive MVP but Holland (above, right) was about as good at it gets in the SEC in 2017. The junior has 43 tackles but these are no ordinary stops. Not only does have 12 tackles for a loss and nine sacks, he also has registered 22 quarterback hurries, which helps set the tone for the secondary to make plays. He also is credited with forced four fumbles and one recovery.
Best Newcomer: Jarrett Stidham, QB
Auburn has been one of the more prolific offenses in the nation, averaging 454 yards per game (of total offense per game. That kind of production does not happen in the SEC unless there is a capable quarterback in the pocket. Stidham, a sophomore transfer from Baylor by way of junior college, finished second in the SEC in passing (2,827) while leading in completion rate (66.7) during the regular season. Playing in a new offense in arguably the toughest conference, Stidham has thrown just four interceptions in 327 pass attempts through 13 games.
Best Play of the Season: Kerryon Johnson 1-yard TD run vs. Alabama
A touchdown run from the 1-yard line may not seem that exciting, but it meant the world to War Eagle Nation against Alabama. When Johnson scored from the 1-yard line, it turned out to be the game-winning touchdown as Auburn went up 20-14 with 3:02 left in the third quarter in an eventual 26-14 victory.
Best Performance: WR Ryan Davis vs. Alabama
The spotlight of the Alabama win may shine on Kerryon Johnson, but Davis turned in his best game of the season against the Crimson Tide. Jarrett Stidham connected with the junior 11 times for 139 yards, consistently moving the chains and giving the Tigers opportunities to put points on the board while playing keep away from Alabama’s offense.
Best Game: The first meeting vs. Georgia
Going into the game, then-No. 2 Georgia was undefeated and the favorite heading into Jordan-Hare Stadium for the cross-divisional showdown. The game was tight at the half with Auburn up 16-7. In the second half, the Tigers pulled away with 14 points in the third and 10 in the fourth quarters for a decisive 40-17 win. The offense dominated the Bulldogs' highly regarded defense for 488 total yards while Auburn held Georgia to just 230 yards of total offense, including a total of 46 rushing yards on 32 carries (1.4 ypc).
Defining Moment: Ryan Davis 32-yard TD reception vs. Georgia on Nov. 11
With Auburn up 23-7 midway through the third quarter, and the game still in doubt, Jarrett Stidham dropped back and connected with Davis on a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the proverbial nail in the Bulldogs' coffin. The momentous win carried over two games later in the SEC West-clinching victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Biggest Surprise: Kerryon Johnson, RB
Everyone knew that Johnson was a special talent, but the year was supposed to belong to Kamryn Pettway. In 2016, Johnson had 895 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 182 carries, showing he could be the featured back if called upon. But few would have picked him to lead the SEC in rushing yards going into the 2017 season. Johnson wasn't just a runner either, as he caught 23 passes for 188 yards and two more touchdowns during the regular season.
Biggest Disappointment: Kamryn Pettway, RB
Pettway was not a disappointment per se, but his list of injuries that kept him off the field was frustrating and disappointing. After rushing for 1,224 yards off 209 totes with seven touchdowns on the ground during his sophomore year, the junior tailback produced just 305 rushing yards with six scores in five games played. Even that is somewhat misleading, as he gained all but 13 of those yards in three games -- Clemson (74), Mercer (128), and Arkansas (90).
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Braden Smith, G
Auburn had great senior leadership up front with Darius James, Austin Golson Smith. Of the great work along the line all season, Smith was the leader in the trenches, opening up holes for the run game and securing the pocket for Jarrett Stidham. Smith earned first-team All-SEC honors for the second season in a row and also named an AP first-team All-American.
Player to Watch in 2018: Jarrett Stidham, QB
The 2018 season might be Stidham’s last in Auburn should he put up big numbers once again. If Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway leave early for the NFL, more of the offensive production will be laid upon Stidham’s right arm. Head coach Gus Malzahn has no qualms about highlighting his quarterbacks; just ask Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: The Offensive Line
With three seniors graduating, there will be big shoes to fill along Auburn’s offensive line in 2018. Sophomores Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton will be leaned upon along with Prince Tega Wanogho, Kaleb Kim and freshman Calvin Ashley expected to cement starting spots. Look for freshmen Austin Troxell and Nick Brahms to make a push for a starting spot during spring ball.
— 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.