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Why Auburn Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

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Auburn enters the 2015 college football season with high expectations. The Tigers are coming off an 8-5 (4-4 SEC) record and were several lapses from being a national contender.

Auburn's offense was what you'd expect from a Gus Malzahn-coached team. The Tigers ranked second in the SEC in yards per game (485.0) and third in total yards (6,305).

But their defense ranked No. 61 overall in the FBS and allowed 26.7 points per game, which ranked 10th in the conference. Still, there's optimism for an immediate turnaround with new coordinator Will Muschamp at the helm and one of the SEC's best returning linebacker groups.

Auburn was predicted to win the SEC Championship in a poll conducted at SEC Media Days. With the college football season less than 50 days away, it's time to evaluate some of the nation's top contenders.

Here are three reasons why Auburn will make the College Football Playoff and three reasons the Tigers won't finish in the top four.

Three Reasons Why Auburn Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

1. Muschamp Factor

Muschamp is a defensive guru. Despite his disappointing tenure as Florida's head coach he still remains one of the best defensive minds in college football. Muschamp-coached teams ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, which includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. Muschamp also inherits a plethora of talent including linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. Auburn hopes to find the same success as rival Alabama when the Tide hired Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator in 2014. The pairing of Malzahn and Muschamp could be the best in college football and should succeed with a roster full of talent.

Related: New Coordinators Raise the Price of Winning in the SEC

2. Jeremy Johnson Heisman Campaign

Johnson may dismiss Heisman talk now but it may be impossible during the season. Johnson is set to take over as Auburn's new starting quarterback after serving as Nick Marshall's backup the past two seasons. In 11 appearances he's thrown for 858 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on 57-of-78 passing. He's also drawn comparisons to Auburn legend and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton due to his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame and dual-threat ability. Johnson will be the perfect fit in Malzahn's offense which consistently helps mobile QBs flourish. It also doesn't hurt to have one of the SEC's best receiving groups and a pair of talented running backs in Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson.


Related: 10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title in 2015

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3. SEC Hype

So let's assume both Auburn and Alabama enter the Iron Bowl with undefeated records. The Tide defeats the Tigers and earns its second consecutive SEC West title. There's no doubt that Auburn will still be in the top four should it lose to its archrival. In 2013, the Tigers returned what is now known as the "Kick Six" to spoil Alabama's perfect season. With the new Playoff format both teams would have still been in contention for a national championship. It just seems like this season will play out in similar fashion and both teams will rank among the nation's best during rivalry week.

Auburn’s 2015 Schedule

Date

Opponent

 

Athlon Projected Rankfor 2015

Projected Record

Sept. 5

vs. Louisville*

38

7-5

Sept. 12

Jacksonville State

Sept. 19

at LSU

15

8-4

Sept. 26

Mississippi State

21

7-5

Oct. 3

San Jose State

110

4-8

Oct. 15

at Kentucky

55

6-6

Oct. 24

at Arkansas

16

8-4

Oct. 31

Ole Miss

11

9-3

Nov. 7

at Texas A&M

20

7-5

Nov. 14

Georgia

10

10-3

Nov. 21

Idaho

125

2-10

Nov. 28

Alabama

2

12-1

*Neutral-site game in Atlanta, Ga.

Three Reasons Why Auburn Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

1. Injuries

At least 10 Auburn players were held out or limited during spring practices due to injuries according to Al.com's Brandon Marcello. Although many seemed to be precautionary, it still shows that the Tigers have some injury concerns entering the season. Cornerback T.J. Davis, who played 56 snaps last season, will miss a portion of the season recovering from ACL surgery in late March. Defensive end/linebacker Carl Lawson, who underwent knee surgery to repair an ACL in May 2014, was limited despite being cleared participate in practices in December.

2. Tough Schedule

Auburn has the eighth-most difficult schedule in college football according to FBschedules.com. The Tigers' opponents combined for a 92-60 record and a 60.53 winning percentage in 2014. Auburn also has the difficult task of playing at LSU on Sept. 19, Arkansas on Oct. 24 and Texas A&M -- the SEC's largest stadium -- on Nov. 7. Not only does this create potential upsets but also provides fatigue. It will be difficult for the Tigers to make it through their schedule without a blemish but by no means impossible.

3. SEC Contenders Offsetting Each Other

Midway through last season it seemed like several SEC West teams were in contention for the College Football Playoff. By season's end, both Mississippi schools found themselves on the outside looking in. Any SEC team is capable of pulling off an upset on any given Saturday. As mentioned before, both Alabama and Auburn SHOULD enter Week 14 with undefeated records. However, who knows how the season will turn out. Perhaps Texas A&M or LSU is much better than most are giving them credit for. There's always an upset -- if not several -- that plays spoiler to a perfect season and an emerging surprise contender in the conference. Auburn may hold an advantage in every game leading up to the Iron Bowl but could still fall to ranked opponents midway through the season.

Final Verdict

Auburn should be in contention for a College Football Playoff berth by season's end. The Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama will be the biggest game of the season for the Tigers. With the new Playoff format it’s very possible that both teams secure a top-4 ranking after what should be a memorable matchup. Auburn looks like the most complete team in the SEC and should survive a difficult schedule if it can stay healthy. Johnson will emerge as a Heisman candidate in an offensive scheme that will play to his athletic strengths. Muschamp will provide an immediate turnaround to what is already an underrated defensive group. The smart money is on Auburn to be in contention for a College Football Playoff spot whether or not it makes an SEC Championship Game appearance.

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Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 4
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 10-2
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 8.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8.5

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.