Auburn football preview 2013: Projecting the August/September schedule

William Mancebo

The first month of the season isn't too bad, but it should give us a good indication of what Auburn's 2013 season will look like.

Auburn rolls into the first four games of the season with a chance for redemption. After a 3-9 season in 2012 that -- well, that pretty much sucked -- the Tigers face Washington State, Arkansas, Mississippi State and LSU, and for the first time, we're realizing just how many "States" are on the schedule. If all goes according to plan, Auburn will match those three wins from last year in the first month of the new campaign. If not, we'll find out quickly that it could be another long year.

Aug. 31: vs. Washington State

There seem to be many Auburn fans out there who are just writing off this game as a win and looking further down the schedule. Washington State was 3-9 last season, and over the last five years, the Cougars have managed just 12 wins to 49 losses. However, fortunes could be changing in Pullman. The dread pirate Mike Leach is in his second year as head coach, and his team should be in a better position than last year to run his patented air raid offense, and last year the Cougs averaged 330 passing yards per game despite producing just 29 yards per game on the ground. By all accounts, Wazzu had a great fall camp (just like every other team in America).

So no, Johnny Auburn Fan, you shouldn't expect the Tigers to run roughshod over our visitors from the great Northwest in Week 1. Between Leach's passing attack and Gus Malzahn's thin secondary, Washington State should be able to move the ball through the air and score some points. That said, Auburn does have a big advantage in raw talent. That, plus playing at home, should be enough to put the Tigers over the top and start the season with a winning record. Just don't think it's going to be easy.

Washington State 2012 Stats
YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG PPG YPG allow Pass YPG allow Rush YPG allow PPG allow
359.5 330.4 29.1 20.4 425.4 262.2 163.3 33.7

Sept. 7: vs. Arkansas State

It's the trappiest of all trap games: right after the season opener against a real team, right before the start of SEC play against a Mississippi State team Auburn would love to beat. Arkansas State was scorned by Malzahn when he left Jonesboro for the Plains after just one season, and Red Wolves players and fans have been circling this date on the calendar ever since the new Auburn coach's introductory press conference. If you believe that a team can ride intangibles and motivation to victory against a superior opponent, the Arkansas State game should scare you.

Fortunately, Malzahn likely knows just how much this game means to his old school, and he won't be in the position to overlook ASU. The Red Wolves have some talent -- like former Tennessee running back David Oku -- but Auburn will be the better team and, thanks to Malzahn's history with the opponent, should be ready to play.

Arkansas State 2012 Stats
YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG PPG YPG allow Pass YPG allow Rush YPG allow PPG allow
466.7 259.0 207.7 34.9 383.7 277.3 156.4 24.5

Sept. 14: vs. Mississippi State

Now, it gets really interesting. Going into the 2012 season, noted piece of garbage Dan Mullen, entering his fourth year in Starkville, hadn't beaten any team from the SEC West not named Ole Miss. And then Auburn had to go down in flames and give those cowbell-clanging bullies some early-season validation. This year, State returns quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins, and the Bulldogs' defense, despite only returning five starters and losing cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, will probably hold its own once it gets its footing in 2013.

The big question mark for Clanga is at wide receiver. The Bulldogs lose their top for pass catchers from last season, including the seemingly ever present Chad Bumphis. Russell had a pretty good year at quarterback, throwing for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but how will he fare with an unproven receiving corps? And while State's defense should be fine overall, you have to wonder how it will perform against the Tigers. Auburn's offense struggled in 2011, but it still managed to put up 41 points in a win vs. Mullen's team. Will we see the same out of Malzahn's attack this year?

Mississippi State 2012 Stats
YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG PPG YPG allow Pass YPG allow Rush YPG allow PPG allow
381.9 237.8 144.2 29.5 387.4 221.8 165.6 23.3

Sept. 21: at LSU

You may feel good about Auburn's first three games of the season, but unless you're a true optimist, you probably aren't expecting much out of the trip to Red Stick. Yes, the worst Auburn team in 60 years lost by two points to LSU last year, but that was the Bengal Tigers' first road game of the season with a new quarterback. Our Tigers will be in the exact same boat this year. And with the game likely at night -- the CBS afternoon game should be Tennessee-Florida -- Nick Marshall will be making his road debut in college football's toughest environment. Yikes.

Crazy things have happened in the Auburn-LSU series over the years, but in Baton Rouge, good things rarely happen for Auburn. Auburn hasn't won in Tiger Stadium since Tommy Tuberville's famous cigar game in 1999, and honestly, it's hard to imagine that streak breaking this season. If Marshall exceeds our expectations, Auburn will have a chance, but it's a lot to ask of a player making his fourth start against one of the country's elite programs.

LSU 2012 Stats
YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG PPG YPG allow Pass YPG allow Rush YPG allow PPG allow
374.2 200.5 173.7 29.8 307.6 206.0 101.6 17.5

Projected wins: Washington State, Arkansas State, Mississippi State

Projected loss: LSU

Auburn should be able to get off to a hot start, and if the Tigers can get the win against the Bulldogs, it will show the team is ready to be much more competitive going into SEC play.

So, what do you think. Will Auburn play well in September, or will it be a continuation of the sorrow from 2012. Or something in the middle? Vote in our poll and tell us how you think the first four games will play out.

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