Fall camp is imminent.
It begins today, and we’ll see the foundation of the 2022 Auburn Tigers take the field under Bryan Harsin for his second season on the Plains.
We mentioned a couple days ago that it seems like the summer was short, due to basketball and baseball occupying our time during the winter and spring. There wasn’t time to get to the dog days of summer before things started to get boring and you look ahead to football season. It was short, and here we are already.
Auburn emerges after a summer slumber coming off of a 6-7 season that ended with five consecutive losses, all of which were within the Tigers’ grasp late before one misfortune or another befell the team. Texas A&M, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama, and Houston. Auburn was either tied or led in the second half in all, and specific coaching decisions led to losses in at least two of those games (RUN THE DANG BALL, BOBO).
Can Auburn be better in 2022? Sure. Will they? I have no idea. The schedule turns into an even year behemoth, with the two most important games on the road, even though we wouldn’t have expected to win those if they were at home. There’s a quarterback battle, and questions around other key areas of the team. Let’s review.
- WHO WILL TAKE THE STARTING QUARTERBACK SPOT?
Zach Calzada, TJ Finley, Robby Ashford, Holden Geriner. You’d think that Calzada has the edge due to his play for A&M in 2021, and he seems to be the type of quarterback that Bryan Harsin wants. Ashford excited in the spring game with some escapability, and Finley’s got the experience at Auburn, but it was never anything impressive to be honest. Betting odds have to be Calzada, but we need him to take charge and grab the starting spot quickly and firmly in fall camp so we can build around him.
- WILL AN OLDER AND MORE EXPERIENCED OFFENSIVE LINE BE A BETTER OFFENSIVE LINE?
Auburn’s offensive line has a ton of combined starts, and the possibility for multiple combinations with guys who’ve started games in the past. The problem is that they’ve never been fantastic as a unit, but maybe another season in the trenches together can help bond things and push them to the next level. Kilian Zierer/Brenden Coffey, Brandon Council, Nick Brahms, Keiondre Jones, and Alec Jackson/Austin Troxell have all played extensively, and we just need them to stay healthy. Can they take a step like the line did from 2009 to 2010? Like we saw from 2012 to 2013? Experience is huge, and this could end up being a strength.
- WHO IS GOING TO CATCH THE BALL?
The Bryan Harsin culling experiment was an interesting one, with Kobe Hudson just getting dismissed from the team randomly, but the staff has brought in a couple more folks to catch passes and there are some old hands on the roster still. Shed Jackson, Ja’Varrius Johnson, and Malcolm Johnson return, along with Ze’Vian Capers. The production in that group has never been huge, but maybe a better coordination effort of the offense (RIP Bobo) and a new quarterback can help elevate production. The addition of Koy Moore from LSU could help, but he’s pretty green with only 5 catches for 71 yards in 2021. Thankfully all of the RECORD-SETTING tight ends are back, with John Samuel Shenker, Luke Deal, and hybrid guy Landen King able to supplement the passing game.
- DO THE COACHING STAFF CHANGES RESULT IN MORE WINS IN 2022?
2021 had multiple games where a single coaching decision likely turns a loss into a win. Throwing the ball unnecessarily against Alabama and South Carolina resulted in turnovers/scores for the other side, and Auburn could’ve really turned things upside down with wins there. Defensively, doing literally anything against Mississippi State would’ve been nice to see, Harsin chose guys with former SEC experience instead of guys that he would work best with, and now he’s got Schmedding and Kiesau in the coordinator positions. I have to expect that it’ll improve cohesion on the staff and in the decision-making process.
- HOW SHORT OF A LEASH DOES BRYAN HARSIN HAVE THIS SEASON? COULD WE SEE HIM OUT BEFORE THE IRON BOWL IF THINGS GO SOUTH?
We looked at the schedule a couple days ago, but if Auburn doesn’t beat Penn State, you can start the clock. It’s the best home atmosphere that we’ll have, a huge recruiting weekend, and we have to take momentum from that into beginning the year at 4-1 at worst with the opening home stand. 6-6 means he’s gone, 7-5 could be him staying depending on how those losses look and how recruiting’s going, 8-4 he probably stays. If we’re 3-2 heading to Athens, Harsin probably doesn’t make Thanksgiving.
- HOW MANY RECORDS DOES DERICK HALL BREAK THIS YEAR?
Derick Hall is going to be a terror in the pass rush game, and thankfully Auburn has enough talent around him to let him have plenty of opportunities to rack up some numbers. He’s at 13.0 career sacks, and the all-time Auburn leaders in sacks are Quentin Groves and Gerald Robinson with 26.0. The all-time single-season record is Nick Fairley with 12.0 sacks. Hall would have to break the single season mark to break the all-time mark, but I think he can get 8-10 sacks this year to leap into the top five all-time on the Plains.
- IS THERE A REPEAT OF GEORGIA STATE ON THE SCHEDULE?
Yeah, unfortunately. You’d like to see definite winnable games in the non-con aside from Penn State, and Auburn has two to begin the season in Mercer and San Jose State. What we’ll need to look out for is Western Kentucky. Sandwiched between Texas A&M and Alabama, with Thanksgiving crammed in there as well, this is a total trap game against a team that can light up the scoreboard. WKU was the 2nd-highest scoring team in the country last year, with Bailey Zappe throwing for just under 6,000 yards and 62 touchdowns. WVU transfer Jarret Doege comes in, so they’ll have an experienced quarterback under center, and we’ll need to watch out against a team that never failed to score 30 points last season.
- HOW DOES AUBURN MEASURE SUCCESS AGAINST ITS TWO MAIN RIVALS THIS SEASON?
Last year, you would’ve loved to see a 1-1 record against them at home, but on the road the record will be 0-2 almost assuredly. You want to try and muddy the game up against Georgia, hoping to get them into a 17-10, 16-13 type of game late so that anything can happen. This is a spot where the older offensive line could really cement a legacy by showing up in Athens. A game like last year isn’t the worst thing in the world, since Auburn was competitive for a large portion of the game, we just had to deal with Mike Bobo calling plays. There’s so much time until the Iron Bowl, and there’s so much that can happen that I don’t think you can assign an expectation right now. What if Auburn is 9-2 going to Tuscaloosa? Then I would pick us to compete and probably win. If we’re 6-5? Yikes.
- WHAT WEEK WILL AUBURN FANS START TWEETING “TOTALLY A BASKETBALL SCHOOL”?
If we lose to Penn State. If not, when we’re getting run over in the fourth quarter in Athens.
- WHAT WILL THE MELTDOWN BE IF BO NIX LOOKS GREAT TO START THE SEASON FOR OREGON?
To quote Kevin Bacon in the cinema class Tremors, “I don’t care what they’re doing, long as they’re doing it way the hell over there!”