During SEC Media Days last week, SI.com's Andy Staples wrote an article that Auburn's 2015 season depends on Jeremy Johnson living up to the hype. I disagree. I think Auburn can have a great season if Jeremy Johnson is just good.
What, Exactly, Is the Hype Level?
Jeremy Johnson is receiving a lot of hype, but hype is just a word to describe praise before the facts. I've chosen to use Heisman Trophy candidate as a point of argument because it's something we can point to that has numbers to compare from the last few seasons.
Jeremy Johnson does not have to be a Heisman Trophy Candidate for Auburn to succeed. He obviously has to be good, but he doesn't have to be great. He doesn't have to be a Heisman-level quarterback for 2015 to be successful for Auburn.
Nick Marshall was never a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy over the past two seasons, and he led Auburn's offense to spectacular levels. Sure, Cam won the Heisman in 2010 on the way to the national championship, but go back to 2004 and Jason Campbell was the perfect "game manager" quarterback that never really "wowed" anyone, but played well enough to guide the Tigers to a perfect season.
The Jason Campbell Model
If you want to know what I think Auburn needs out of Jeremy Johnson this season, I think Jason Campbell is the go to model. I also think Jeremy Johnson can be much better than Jason Campbell was, but more on that later.
During that 2004 season, Campbell had a completion percentage of 69.6% and 2700 yards passing. Jeremy Johnson has hovered above the 70% completion rating in his limited snaps, and we know from practice reports, those few games, and A-Day that he can throw the football accurately. If JJ approaches that level of success just in throwing the football, then Auburn will be just fine. Truthfully, I believe if JJ throws for his target of 3000 yards, about 500 more than Nick Marshall reached in 2014, then Auburn will be successful offensively.
To put that into some perspective, remember that even in 2010, Cam Newton barely surpassed Campbell's passing numbers. He threw for 2854, which was 36th best in the nation. 3000 yards last season would have been 40th among all FBS quarterbacks. Hardly spectacular numbers.
Auburn Is Built On The Run
Jason Campbell only ran for 30 yards in 2004, though. Cam Newton ran for 1473 in 2010. Nick Marshall ran for 1068 in 2013 and 798 in 2014. We haven't seen much of Jeremy Johnson running the football, but we know he's capable of it. There have been discussions in the comments of our articles over the last two weeks about just how much we think Johnson will run the football. JJ said during the spring that he wanted to run for 1,000 yards. I think 500 is much more realistic and fits in with Gus Malzahn's less run oriented quarterbacks.
Cam Newton and Nick Marshall were excellent runners, but as I said a few months back (and linked above), Gus doesn't have to have a mobile quarterback to be successful. If Jeremy Johnson runs for 500 yards, he'll still fit in with the mold of many of Malzahn's quarterbacks who led offenses ranked as some of the best in the nation.
Jeremy Johnson can run, but it's not his strength. He's a smart runner who gets to the sidelines, as Tuco pointed out. Auburn's 2015 run game will mainly revolve around the running backs and receivers on the speed sweep. I think most of Johnson's rushing yards will be when he breaks free of pressure and starts scrambling.
Auburn's rushing attack in 2014 was not as strong as 2013. The Tigers ran for 3312 yards in 2014, which is 1200 yards less than 2013. That's with a drop off of 200 yards from Nick Marshall's 2014 total to 2013. Auburn's offense was still successful, so that means the Tigers really only need to make up 300 yards that the quarterback accounted for last season in order to maintain 2014 numbers. That's assuming Jeremy Johnson doesn't end up more like Cam Newton and Nick Marshall, too.
What is Heisman-Worthy?
So if Jeremy Johnson throws for 3000 yards and runs for 500 yards, does that make him a Heisman candidate? It could, depending on how the rest of college football shakes out this season. I don't think it will, though. Marcus Mariota threw for close to 4500 yards and ran for close to 800 last season. Jameis Winston threw for just over 4000 and ran for just over 200 in 2013. So those numbers for Jeremy Johnson might get him in the discussion, but he would not likely be a serious candidate.
That's ok, though. In fact, it's more than ok. If Jeremy Johnson throws for 3000 and runs for 500, then Auburn's offense will put the team in a good position to win every game. The questions from there revolve around red-zone play calling and the defense.
Now imagine Jeremy Johnson throwing for 4000 yards, as Malzahn's Tulsa QBs did, combined with Auburn's rushing attack. Gives you chills, right? If he performs to that level, then I think he will be a Heisman front-runner.
Johnson Doesn't Need To Be Cam Newton. Jason Campbell Is Just Fine.
Jeremy Johnson doesn't have to be the best player in college football. He doesn't even have to be the best quarterback in college football. No one thought Nick Marshall was the best over the last two years, and no one thought Jason Campbell was the best in 2004.
Can Auburn win the SEC and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015 if Jeremy Johnson isn't a Heisman Trophy candidate? Of course they can. I hate using the phrase "game manager" as I did earlier in the article for Jason Campbell, but that's really all we need him to be. He needs to be able to manage Gus Malzahn's offense and not make too many mistakes. He'll also need a bit more help from the defensive side of the ball, but it is not essential that he has to be considered as one of the best players in college football for Auburn to win in 2015.