The Argument For Auburn
Auburn is the sleeping giant of College Football. Occasionally they will have a strong run and be in the playoff conversation or even the National Championship discussion. They are the sleeper team in the SEC that can pull off some upsets and make the playoff an interesting discussion. Auburn generally is the second or third best team in the SEC West with Alabama usually winning the division and LSU or Texas A&M occasionally finishing second (last year LSU won the division). This year can be the year that Auburn shocks everyone and wins the SEC West and goes on to not only make the playoff but possibly win the National Championship.
The first thing to think about is Auburn in the previous years. Auburn usually finishes their season’s with four or even five losses. Last season may have looked like a typical four-loss year and shouldn’t give much optimism for this season. What goes unnoticed is that the Tigers started out the season 5-0 and beat one of the top teams in the nation in Oregon in their first game. After dropping their game to Florida, Auburn's next three losses were by only a touchdown or less. Auburn was in every game they played and it only takes a few plays for those one-score losses to swing to wins. By the way, the National Champion LSU, played their toughest game of the year against Auburn, barely beating them in Death Valley (23-20).
Last year Auburn had one of the toughest schedules in College Football and this year appears to be just as difficult. However, I see Auburn catching a few breaks in their schedule this year. The first break is that they don’t play Florida this year, the only team that truly defeated them and beat them by more than one score (24-13) last season. Florida, like Auburn, is going to be one of the more improved teams this season and also a possible National Championship contender. Auburn plays North Carolina early in the year and then plays Georgia a few weeks later, both games can trip Auburn but Auburn looks better than both teams (even though Georgia has been the top team in the SEC East, it’s likely they take a step back this year as they have to replace their backfield and half their offensive line). The real challenges come at the end of the season when they play back to back games against LSU and Alabama. LSU had a historic season last year and nobody could beat them, Auburn almost did and LSU lost a surplus of talent to the NFL. It’s going to be interesting to see how the LSU Tigers look this season and it will probably determine where Auburn falls in the SEC West. Alabama is likely to be the best team in the division and possibly the best in College Football, the Iron Bowl has been where Alabama’s demons have been exposed over the recent years. While Auburn hasn’t beaten Alabama at Bryant-Denny stadium since 2010, they have proven that they can pull the upset. The last time they beat ‘Bama in Tuscaloosa they had one of the best quarterbacks to play in College Football in Cam Newton, they now have someone who can be just as good as Cam in Bo Nix.
Bo Nix is the reason I am optimistic about Auburn. Nix as a Freshman showed talent beyond his years and is only getting better. This year he can emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and a possible Heisman contender. The advantage Auburn has over their rivals is they return the same quarterback from last season, Nix already knows the offense and like Burrow with LSU last year, the pieces around him will only get better with the improvement of his play.
Many would say that Auburn lost too much talent to the NFL and rightfully so. Derrick Brown, Noah Igbinoghene, Marlon Davidson all left for the NFL and most of the roster has first-year starters at key positions. Auburn at the same time returns key receivers Eli Stove and Seth Williams, both poised for breakout years with Nix continuing to improve. On the defensive side of the ball, Smoke Monday (awesome nickname) and KJ Britt will have to emerge as leaders of the defense and also the top players on their units. The defensive line might be the biggest question mark, Gus Malzahn needs to find game changers on the line if he hopes to compete with the rest of the SEC, if he does though, this defense can be one of the best in the country.
Auburn is one of the more intriguing teams in College Football this upcoming season. They can lose five games this year and nobody would be surprised. They can do what the LSU Tigers did last season and not only dominate every game but become title contenders despite currently being regarded as the third best team in the SEC West.