Things are shaping up this offseason for Auburn to have the kind of year that we all felt in our hearts, but never expected in our brains. What are the biggest questions that fans around the country might have about our beloved Tigers on the eve of College Football’s Week Zero?
1. HOW WILL BO NIX HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF BEING A TRUE FRESHMAN STARTING QUARTERBACK IN THE SEC?
This is the moment that Bo Nix has been waiting for his entire life. He grew up in a household led by a former Auburn quarterback, and a (at the time) current college football coordinator. Bo’s been groomed by his father to take the reins in the backfield at Auburn since the moment he was born. It’s true that there may be some pressure because this will very well be the end-all, be-all of his adolescent mind’s eye, but he looks to be unflappable.
We’ve heard in practice that he’s a bit of a gunslinger, but that he’s got all the tools to make the plays necessary to let the rest of the team thrive. He can move, and I think he’ll surprise the rest of the country when he takes off for the first time. There’s no throw on the field he can’t make, and once he takes that first hit, the pressure will be gone and he’s just playing football.
Count me in as one of those who think that the quarterback play won’t be what holds Auburn back this year, but as one element of the team that’ll elevate the success of the Tigers in 2019.
2. CAN THE OFFENSIVE LINE IMPROVE ENOUGH TO GIVE AUBURN A SHOT AT THE SEC WEST?
The evidence would say “yes”.
When Auburn won the West in 2017, 2013, 2010, and 2004, it was largely because of a superbly-experienced offensive line. Think juniors and seniors across the board. Think hundreds of combined starts for the group paving the way. We may all be a little gun-shy after what we saw last season, but that’s happened before. The offensive line struggled in 2003, 2009, 2012, and 2016 at times, but it came together enough with another year as a unit to turn into a strength for the team. With five starters back, and a couple of guys that could end up being drafted, this is a talented and cohesive unit now. If practice gossip is to be believed, then they’ve held their own against the Auburn defensive front, which is no small task. We’ll need them to be good to keep Bo’s jersey clean in his first season under center.
3. WHY IS THIS THE BEST DEFENSIVE LINE IN THE COUNTRY
Talent, experience, hunger.
First of all, this ain’t your Tuberville diamond-in-the-rough group of guys. Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, and T.D. Moultry were all five-star players out of high school by one publication or another. Nick Coe and Big Kat Bryant weren’t scrubs either. Only Tyrone Truesdell stands alone as an unheralded recruit, but he’s turned into a favorite of Rodney Garner and he’s shown that he can work with the best of them to earn a spot.
This is also a group that’s seen it all. Marlon Davidson started as a true freshman against eventual national champ Clemson in 2016, while Derrick Brown really became a key piece the next season. Nick Coe’s been around for years, and Moultry/Bryant have a year under their belts and plenty of knowledge as a part of the best group in the land.
Furthermore, there’s no offensive line that can stand up to winning one-on-one battles with each of these guys every snap. You can’t double Brown, because then someone else is a spin move away from the sack. You can’t try to slide in front of Nick Coe, because then you’re leaving Davidson to slash inside.
And lastly, these guys all came back. They could be in the NFL right now, but they knew there were special things going on at Auburn right now. This is a chance for a championship, and they made an executive decision to forego immediate money and make history on the Plains. You don’t come back to suck.
4. HOW WILL THIS YEAR TURN INTO A CLASSIC AUBURN OUT-OF-NOWHERE CHAMPIONSHIP CAMPAIGN?
We’ve touched on a few of these reasons above, but the last three times Auburn won the West, it was with a first-year starter at quarterback (Cam, Nick Marshall, Jarrett Stidham), an offensive line with a ton of combined starts, and a defense that had leadership and experience. Couple that with the fact that we get our two biggest games at home and you’ve got the recipe for what we saw in November 2017.
Auburn will almost assuredly have a crazy game or two (how could road trips to College Station, Gainesville, and Baton Rouge not produce drama?), but we had nail-biters every week in 2010 and won it all.
Also, the Tigers do have history of performing well when the expectations are down. Starting the season ranked 16th puts them right into that sweet spot where you’re not showin’ off, not fallin’ behind. It all depends on a few key developments, but if those happen, we’re getting a bananas year. On the other hand...
5. HOW SUCCESSFUL MUST AUBURN BE TO RETAIN GUS MALZAHN IN 2020?
It could all fall apart. The schedule’s among the toughest in the country, and we don’t give ourselves much time to figure it out since we open with Oregon. If injuries occur, of if certain players play like freshmen, then it could turn into a long year. Gus seems to think that he’s got something he likes, though, and he’s calling plays again, so he wants to make this year all his own.
Still, Auburn likely has to be 9-3 for people to be satisfied. However, if those three losses are @ LSU, Georgia, and Alabama, then the restlessness still comes. If Gus wants to fully secure himself a spot at Auburn in 2020, he needs to go at least 10-2 in the regular season to quiet all critics. That means he needs to win in Baton Rouge and break that bad voodoo streak, split Georgia and Alabama, and only have one loss to either Oregon, A&M, or Florida.
Anything less and you’ll hear the grumbling begin.
Overall, this is going to be a classic Auburn year. It’s going to be wild. It starts eight days from now, so enjoy it when it’s here! War Eagle!