With no game this week, and no opposing writer to interview, we decided to chat with Brandon Larrabee of Team Speed Kills, SB Nation's SEC site. Brandon gives us his opinion of the Tigers so far and what he expects in the future.
College and Magnolia: As an outsider looking at auburn from a neutral point of view, what's your take on the Tigers so far this year? Are they better, worse or about what you were expecting at this point.
Brandon Larrabee: I had originally predicted Auburn would go 5-7 this year, and I now think they're likely to make a bowl, so even on the record I think they're better. But I also expect the Tigers to be more competitive in some of the games they likely won't win than I thought they would be. The one thing that still makes me hesitant to lock Auburn into the postseason is that there are some games (Alabama, for example) where I think the Tigers could perform a lot better than I expected and still lose. There's really very little margin for error with that schedule. They have to at least split the at Arkansas-at Tennessee leg, and while I think they will do that, losing both those games probably means they'll still end up 5-7.
CaM: A lot of Auburn fans think the Tigers will pull an upset against either Texas A&M, Georgia or Alabama. Obviously, anything is possible, but do you think there's any realistic shot at winning one of those games this season?
BL: It depends on what you mean by "realistic." I still think the odds of those three teams all beating Auburn are well north of 50-50. But I also think there's a better than negligible chance that the Tigers could win one of them. Alabama is the one that leaps out to me, both as a rivalry game and because I think the Tide are a lot more suspect than people seem to realize. I'm not sold on either their defense or their running game. The problem I have with seeing a Texas A&M or Georgia upset is that I think both of those offenses are very, very hard for even the best defenses to stop, and I'm just not sure if Auburn can get the one or two stops it would need to win a shootout.
CaM: Most fans aren't worried about the offense under Gus Malzahn, but what do you think of Ellis Johnson's defense? Do you expect to see it much improved in the near future?
BL: As a South Carolina fan, I was disappointed when we lost Ellis Johnson. I don't know that he's one of the top-shelf coordinators in the game, but he's definitely at the top of the group that I would consider "very good." The 4-2-5 is a little bit different than most of the systems out there, and it took him awhile to get it running at top form in Columbia, but once it got going it worked pretty well. And it's continued to work pretty well under Lorenzo Ward. Give Ellis some time, and he'll probably have the Auburn defense clicking at a level that should at least give Malzahn's offense a chance to win most if not all of its games.
CaM: Who do you think are Auburn's best players on both sides of the ball?
BL: I'm afraid I'm going to be pretty boring here. I like Tre Mason, who by my count is the first 100-yard rusher against LSU and has looked solid otherwise. I think Nick Marshall could be the best player on the team if he continues to grow, but he's not there yet. And I like Robenson Therezie on the defensive side of the ball, even if he hasn't been quite as impressive the last three games as he was against Washington State.
CaM: Do you think Malzahn has Auburn going in the right direction, and will the Tigers rejoin the ranks of the SEC elite under their new head coach? If so, when do you think Auburn will be back in contention for an SEC title?
BL: So far, so good. It's a bit early to say that Malzahn has Auburn on the road to being "back," but the early signs are encouraging. The problem for Auburn has less to do with the Tigers and more to do with the fact that it's in the same division with two juggernauts in Alabama and LSU, a very good program in Texas A&M and another rising team in Ole Miss. I'm not sure how all of that is going to shake out. It might take three or four years to get a real sense of what Malzahn is capable of; I wouldn't look for a trip to Atlanta before then.
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