Auburn Tigers 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#35 Auburn Tigers
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Gus Malzahn, 27-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Rhett Lashlee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Steele
Auburn didn’t live up to the hype last season and 2016 doesn’t look that great either with many question marks on the table. Who will start at quarterback? Did coach Gus Malzahn upgrade the defense with the hire of new coordinator Kevin Steele? The Tigers will learn soon enough, but expect the defense to carry more of the weight than the offense this fall.
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Previewing Auburn’s Offense
Auburn has to figure out what it wants to do at quarterback after a dismal 2015 season at the position. John Franklin III could prove to be the answer to its issues thanks to his speed in the zone-read attack, but don’t count out Jeremy Johnson or Sean White.
The good news for the Tigers is that running back Jovon Robinson returns after rushing for 90 yards or more in five of the last six games. He should be the starter after spending most of the 2015 season as a backup. The receiving corps could be an issue with unproven upperclassmen Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens (358 combined yards in 2015) leading the way, but expectations are high for newcomers Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis.
Replacing Shon Coleman and Avery Young at left and right tackle, respectively, could be the biggest problem heading into the season. Overall, there are some exciting pieces, but not a lot of experience.
The key to success this season will be finding consistency at quarterback and identifying at least one playmaker at wide receiver. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn usually finds a way — but he didn’t last season, when the Tigers ranked 10th in the SEC in total offense.
Previewing Auburn’s Defense
Believe it or not, defense might be the strongest part of a Malzahn-coached team for the first time in his career. There will be pressure on new coordinator Kevin Steele, who jumped to Auburn after one year at LSU, to get this unit to play up to its potential.
The Tigers return potential NFL stars Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams along the defensive front, and a heralded defensive line class will bolster a deep group. Production was an issue up front last season because of injuries, but this unit should be much better thanks to a wealth of depth.
Linebacker will be the biggest concern, with Tre’ Williams and Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal leading a group that loses three starters and 601 career tackles.
The safety position should be fine with Tray Matthews and Rudy Ford on the back end, but keep a close eye on who emerges at cornerback on the opposite side of 2015 Freshman All-SEC selection Carlton Davis. Ohio State transfer Jamel Dean could be a star with more development, but another transfer, Marshall Taylor by way of Miami (Ohio), could be the favorite.
Previewing Auburn’s Specialists
Special teams have always seemed to be a strength at Auburn and should be again this season. Daniel Carlson, who drilled four 50-yard field goals last season, returns as one of the SEC’s top kickers. Overall, he made 23-of-27 attempts last season. Punter should be in good hands with the emergence of Kevin Phillips (41.0-yard average, 17 inside the 20-yard line). Meanwhile, Auburn is set in the return game. Davis averaged 11.9 yards per return on punts, and Ford (28.6 ypr) and Kerryon Johnson (27.6 ypr) will be the two speedsters returning kickoffs.
Auburn has some key questions on offense, but there is enough talent on this roster for a bounce-back season if Malzahn and his revamped coaching staff can put the right pieces in the right places. Interestingly, it’s the defense that may carry the Tigers early in the season as the fourth-year coach tries to figure things out on offense. Opening the season against national runner-up Clemson will be extremely tough, but staying home for the first five weeks of the season could build some much-needed confidence for Auburn. Malzahn can jump off the hot seat early with a strong start to the season. A slow start will make fans wonder if their Tigers will lose to rivals Georgia and Alabama for a third straight year — something that could lead to a change at the top.