It's a familiar topic to Auburn fans. Ask one if they would rather be ranked highly to start the season or be overlooked, they'll almost all tell you they'd rather no one be paying attention to Auburn. Auburn does the best when little is expected. The Tigers rarely live up to those high expectations.
That's been the narrative for my entire memory as an Auburn fan. 2003 and 2004 are examples we always point to. 2010, 2013, and 2014 are others. Auburn rarely fits the narrative that is predicted for them at the beginning of the football season.
At the conclusion of the 2015 SEC Media Days, the assembled media chose Auburn as the favorite to win the SEC Championship. The crazy part is that the Tigers were not selected to win the SEC West. The difference in how those two predictions are made is what caused the strange discrepancy. It shows just how wide of an opinion the media has in where Auburn will finish in the SEC West this season.
The Vegas lines have Auburn at an over-under of 8.5 for wins, but also have the Tigers with decent odds to make the College Football Playoffs.
You can't really look at this wide range of opinions in the vacuum of Auburn alone. You can make an argument for every single team in the SEC West finishing at least as high as second in the division, this year. The Tigers will play one of the toughest schedules in the nation just by virtue of being in the SEC West.
It's Time to Flip the Script. If there were ever a complete coaching staff and assemblage of talent to begin changing the narrative around the nation and among Auburn fans, this is it. Auburn's offense has been one of the strongest in the nation for the past two years, and the defensive staff brought in with Will Muschamp should be able to take advantage of all of the talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Reasons to Be Excited
There are a lot of ifs and shoulds to discuss, and we have to remember that Auburn still faces a number of teams with their own high expectations. Let's look at some reasons why we have reason to believe Auburn will live up to expectations this year.
Gus Malzahn & Rhett Lashlee
The offensive minds that direct Auburn's offense are phenomenal. They are masters at taking the talent available and molding an offense to fit them.
An NFL-caliber arm with a big body and a lot of time spent as an understudy in the Malzahn/Lashlee offense. If there's one factor isn't discussed enough in regards to JJ taking the starting job it is the time he has put in learning this offense over the past two years. He's ready, he's more than talented and skillful, and by all reports he has been an excellent leader off the field this summer.
One of the best wide receivers in the nation, and he has JJ to throw the ball to him. That's all you really need to know.
Defensive Senior Leadership
Sure, the defense hasn't been fantastic, but there are a number of seniors out there to provide a strong backbone. The two senior linebackers will provide a solid anchor, and having Josh Holsey, Jonathan Jones, and now Blake Countess in the defensive secondary will work wonders, as well.
A Pass Rush!
The return of Carl Lawson is enough to be excited about on its own, but adding one of the top defensive end recruits in the nation in Byron Cowart can make you giddy to see what type of pressure the Tigers can put on opposing quarterbacks with just four.
Don't expect a Top 10 defense from Coach Muschamp's unit this season. He rarely produces a Top 10 defense in his first year at a school. However, he does vastly improve the defenses he takes over. With Auburn's offense, the Tigers don't need an absolute shut-down defense. A slight improvement in the games last season, and the Tigers likely only lose 1-2 games.
Reasons For Concern
Last Year's Defense Was Bad
There were times early in the year where we got excited about defense, but down the stretch it was a horror show. We know Muschamp is a defensive mastermind, but can even he do enough to help last year's players recover from that final stretch?
Losing Starters on Offense
The Tigers lost eight starters from last season's team, including a Center who started the vast majority of Auburn's games over the past few years. Yes, there's a ton of talent there to replace those lost, and some injured players are returning to the ranks, but that is still a concern. I'm certain they'll be fantastic by the season's end, but games against Louisville and LSU early mean that they'll need to get it together quickly or it will already be too late.
Last Season's Strange Habit of First Play Turnovers.
Was there any stranger thing than Auburn turning the ball over on their first offensive play against Mississippi State (first AND second offensive play!), Texas A&M, and Alabama? That was just weird. The good news is that Rhett Lashlee claimed none of the running backs fumbled during Spring Practice. Ever.