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Staff Roundtable: Auburn 2021 Season Predictions

Any of you got the guts to say it out loud?

Ryan Sterritt: Last year I went on the record saying I had no idea what the team was going to be like. I had questions about the development of a sophomore Bo Nix, the ability of a true freshman running back to be a workhorse, the overall quality of the offensive line, and how a defensive front that was missing Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson would be able to fill those voids. Not to mention, y’know, COVID. I thought that team had 9-1 potential if all those question marks hit, or 5-5 if the all missed.

Without rehashing 2020, I feel the opposite about this season. I think we know Tank Bigsby will show out as one of the top two or three running backs in the nation this year. I’m going to call my shot and say the defense finishes as a top 10 unit in advanced metrics like SP+. But unfortunately, I feel like the upside of this team is limited by Bo Nix and the offensive line. That’s not to say they can’t take a big step forward, but it would be the exception to the rule if an offense massively improved with the same players learning a new system under a whole new staff.

All that said, here’s my predictions:

  • Auburn goes 8-4, with losses at LSU and Texas A&M and at home against Georgia and Alabama. A win over Penn State and a 0.500 conference record isn’t a bad year one by any means.
  • Bo Nix starts every game, and ends the year in second place on Auburn’s career passing yards leaderboard. He needs just 2342 yards to pass Jason Campbell for second, fewer than he’s had each of the last two seasons. To up the ante a bit, I’ll say he completes this in Jordan-Hare against Mississippi State.
  • Shedrick Jackson finally breaks out as a reliable pass catcher. He won’t set the world on fire, but he’ll quadruple up his career catches (10) by catching 40 balls this year.
  • I said it above, but this defense ends the year as a top 10 unit in most advanced metrics (SP+, FEI, FPI, etc).

Son of Crow: This season is going to happen just to spite me I think. I am not ready for it, and really have become disillusioned by Auburn football recently. I’d like to have my normal 12-0 optimism, but I just don’t see any way this team wins more than 8 games on its best day. Mark me down for 7-5. I hope I am wrong, but it just seems inevitable that Auburn will lose a game it shouldn’t, have key players miss time in a game because of COVID, and struggle to pass-block all season. Sorry to be the Negative Nelly. I AM excited, however, to see Shaun Shivers and Tank Bigsby run the ball and for Owen Pappoe to end his Auburn career with a chance at a national award. I think the defense will be salty, but I am not sure Auburn can hit passes downfield.

Josh Dub: 12-0, 0-12, or somewhere in between. Folks, I’m walking into 2021 with zero expectations, zero prejudices, zero feats. For the first time in a long, long time, Auburn’s football coach isn’t Gus Malzahn. I’m going to embrace that for what it is — new.

AU Nerd: Auburn is notoriously difficult to project. Even more so under a brand new coaching staff facing the usual gauntlet that is the Tigers’ schedule. The Tigers aren’t getting much love from the human pollsters with some even seeing them as the 6th best team in the SEC West. At the same time, advanced projection systems like SP+, FPI & FEI see Auburn as a top 25 team and a top 5 team in the SEC. But they too project trouble ahead due to the difficulty of Auburn’s schedule.

For me, I keep going back to the fact that Auburn was one of only 5 teams to have a winning record against that SEC only schedule last fall. Sans defensive back and wide receiver, Auburn returns the majority of that 2020 roster including arguably the top running back in the country. They also hit the portal hard and seem to have found a number of impact players on defense and at wide receiver.

I still don’t trust Bo Nix or this offensive line so I will continue to approach this year with caution. However, I think a lot of folks are underestimating this team and it would not shock me at all if a trip to College Station in early November was to decide who will challenge Bama for the top spot in the West. Obviously, we’ll know pretty quickly whether Harsin’s debut squad can play spoiler this year as Auburn faces three top 15 teams in their first 6 weeks. But they get to ease into those contests with 2 cupcakes to open the season.

With all that said, I am going to say the 2021 Tigers finish 8-4. They go 4-2 to start the year with a tough loss on the road in Happy Valley but snag a streak ending victory in Baton Rouge. UGA, A&M and Bama just have recruited at too high a level for me to pick the Tigers in those games though it would not shock me in the least if Auburn somehow stole one of those contests. Arkansas and Ole Miss are the trap games to watch but I think Auburn’s talent wins out in those.

Mostly, I am just ready to see what a Bryan Harsin coached team looks like. Outside of the year not to be mentioned, since 2009 Gus Malzahn’s influence has loomed large of Auburn football. It’s time to discover what a post Malzahn world looks like.

AU Chief: 11-1

Will McLaughlin: Over my years of following Auburn Football, I have learned that going into seasons with no expectations tend to be much more fun than the seasons when so much is expected preseason. This is one of those years.

With a new coach, changes to the offense, along with all the uncertainly of COVID and other issues, I’m with Crow when I’m thinking this will be a 7-5 season.

QB and OL continue to be major question marks but unlike last season, there’s QB depth if things go south with Nix. Auburn should be pretty stout on defense though so hopefully Auburn’s offense won’t be asked to do too much but when in doubt, get Tank Bigsby the ball. We aren’t going to really know what to expect with this group though until after the trip to Happy Valley.

Jack Condon: There have been very few games that I’ve ever watched where I went in thinking that Auburn had absolutely no shot at winning. None, whatsoever. There were some during the 2012 season, and I think last year’s Iron Bowl was another. Before that, I probably conjured up an inkling of confidence in every game except some late 90s Spurrier-era Florida games.

That said, I think I’m chalking up the Alabama game this year as a loss AS OF NOW, since I probably did the same thing preseason in 2013. We don’t know how we’ll turn out yet, but at this point the best I would say we could do is 11-1. That’s top end, dream first season under Bryan Harsin. Realistically, I think we have about a pretty good chance to start 4-0 and win our non-conference games (Penn State was bad last year, y’all, and AU Nerd has told me that our defense will be snarky). If we go into Baton Rouge and beat an Ed Orgeron team in Death Valley, count me into that 11-1 best case prediction. I think we will end the streak just because they were so bad last year as well. I still think Georgia gets us, they’re too talented, and Lane Kiffin is absolutely going to beat us at home for some reason. The stunner win will come when we keep our unbeaten streak alive in College Station, and we won’t fight with each other in Columbia, instead actually beating the Gamecocks instead of ourselves. All that said, 9-3 is the prediction for me, because I’m just too full of Auburn, y’all. Besides, this is the year. Bo Nix will improve so much under this new offense. He’ll be focused. He’ll have fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a darkhorse for the Heisman.

AU_Jonesy: You know what? I’m just so freakin happy to be able to tailgate. To be in Jordan-Hare Stadium again. To be amongst my people. I haven’t really given a lot of thought to the record this year. There’s been good news, bad news...disappointing news. Here’s what I feel like I know today:

  • This offense can probably control the ball and be diverse enough to score between 20-30 points per game. They may not be explosive enough to get into the 40s against anyone but Akron and Alabama State, but there’s enough here to feel okay.
  • This defense might be really really really good. As in hold-everyone-but-the-absolute-best-on-the-schedule-under-25 good (look, we’re not gonna see the 1988 defense again).

I think what probably happens is that there are 5 games on this schedule that should be wins. There are 3 games on this schedule that I just don’t see Auburn winning. That’s not to say they won’t inexplicably drop one to the first five, or just as inexplicably beat one of the latter 3, but I think those are the knowns at this point. The other four games are Penn State, LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. I figure 2-2 is a decent result there. It’s something to build on. I’m not sure any of us would be thrilled with 7-5, but let’s see something that can serve as a foundation. Let’s enjoy Auburn football again. Not just for wins, but for what it truly means to all of us. That stadium is our home. Let’s have some fun.

Josh Black: On paper, I shouldn’t see Penn State, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Mississippi State on this schedule and not be able to assume that we should win 4 of these. Because we’re a better football team than all but LSU on this list in my opinion. And yet I cannot sit here and assume Auburn can win a meaningful road game again until they do it, so I’m putting Penn State and LSU down as losses.

On paper I should not assume Auburn can contend with Georgia and Alabama based on the chasm of talent between our programs despite the games being played in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Texas A&M is trending in that same direction despite us never losing in Aggieland. I’ve seen enough of this offensive line and Bo Nix for me to predict those upsets. So I have these as losses.

We’ve got 3 gimme games on this schedule that I wouldn’t dare assume the worst. So 3 guaranteed wins and 3 guaranteed losses for me. This is where I’d like to get optimistic about the other 6 games on this schedule and predict an upside of 8-4 or 7-5…and all I can do is remember how last year if we had to play Mississippi State during the original week it was scheduled it would be a double forfeit under this year’s rules around Covid.

We don’t want to talk about it. It’s exhausting and we just want to enjoy this. I know we all do. But here’s how I see it: you won’t see a forfeit on this schedule because rightly or wrongly I don’t see any program in this league not manipulating their way out of revenue losses. I do, however, see Covid as a negative impact with potential losses at position groups at various times that if it catches us in 50% of this schedule could result in a loss. It’s widely reported among Auburn sites that we are not where we could and should be in terms of vaccinations. I believe that to be accurate based on their reporting and based on my own knowledge of the situation.

Look, I’d love to be optimistic here. I’d love to be enthusiastic about the legitimate good Bryan Harsin has done with this program. I’d love to not be in a global pandemic that directly has impacted this sport for almost 2 years now. But I can’t look past a lack of vaccinations at positions that would truly alarm us if it were widely reported and think this team is suited to overcome it when they had an outbreak towards the end of last year after all the students had gotten back. Covid doesn’t play fair, and with where I personally feel we have had a lack of leadership in being PRO VACCINE by GETTING THE SHOT AND PROMOTING IT to your players and the residents of a state with no ICU beds, I hate to tell y’all that any optimism I want to have stops right there. I think there’s a game out of those 6 toss ups not named Penn State or LSU where it negatively impacts us and probably drop those two because of where it has already impaired us from having a consistent offensive line in fall camp.