The 2014 SEC season is nearly upon us, so it’s high time (no pun intended, Nick Marshall) that we start our round of 14 SEC previews with the Auburn Tigers. We were thinking about starting with favorites Alabama, or the Yell Boys at Texas A&M, but we realised that we do previews, we start with the Champions – and those were the Tigers, who beat Missouri in a 59-42 shoot-out in Atlanta.

Anyway, here’s your preview of the 2014 Auburn Tigers.

LAST SEASON

This was an incredible season to be an Auburn fan. ‘War Eagle’ finished 12-1 and 7-1 in the SEC, with their only loss coming at LSU. They beat Alabama and Georgia in stunning circumstances, with ‘Kick-Six’ and ‘Hail Mary’ plays suddenly becoming the order of the day. They turned Tre’ Mason, their running back, from relative unknown to household name. Their fast-paced, Gus Malzahn-coached offense could not be dealt with ANYONE, with no team managing to keep Auburn to less than 21 points. Oh, and they went to the National Championship Game, where they lost in heart-breaking fashion to Florida State. Auburn probably wasn’t a ’12-1 team’ in 2013. They could well have lost to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State this year. Their defense was awful. But you know what? The fact of the matter is is that they knew how to win games. Which makes them so dangerous in 2014.

RECRUITING

We’re not going to delve into the class of ’15 because unless the NCAA is doing early, early, early, early signing day for high school rising seniors, none of the guys that everybody’s talking about on Twitter are going to see the field in 2014, and could well commit and de-commit 900 times before National Signing Day. But on 2014 NSD, they got OG Braden Smith, who will probably start next year, D’haquille Williams, a WR that will boost Auburn’s receiving corps, and they shored up the defensive backfield. And they may have whiffed on 5-star Rashaan Evans (lost him to Alabama), but they also got DE Andrew Williams.

OFF-SEASON

The biggest talk of Auburn’s off-season was the citation of quarterback Nick Marshall (who didn’t exactly arrive on the plains NOT under a cloud after having to transfer from Georgia) for being in possession of under an ounce of marijuana. Malzahn seemed super-aggrieved at the SEC Media Days….and he is probably super-aggrieved with DB Jonathon Mincy, who was arrested on ‘second degree’ possession of the green stuff in late June. Oh, and new signee Kalvarez Bessent was also arrested on drug charges in February. Bessent was put on probation in March. But even if the CB wanted to start or play a part in the start of the ’14 season, he’s now starting in the Malzahn doghouse. I’m sure that Malzahn would have swapped all three arrests and had them all out for the season to bring back legendary TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, who died in a car wreck on June 30. Lutzenkirchen helped to bring Auburn a National Championship in 2010.

SO HERE ARE OUR BIGGEST QUESTIONS FOR THE 2014 AUBURN TIGERS

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AT QUARTERBACK?

We don’t know HOW pissed Gus Malzahn is at Marshall, but we should think he will suspend him for some or all of the Arkansas game on August 30th and if he’s super-pissed, the San Jose State game/home opener on September 6th. We think that that’ll give a chance to sophomore Jeremy Johnson, who Malzahn has already said “could start for a majority of teams in college football”. But really, Marshall’s going to start a majority of games for Auburn, and they are pretty much set at the position.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A WALL OF STRENGTH

The words ‘strength’ is probably understating how good Auburn’s offensive line is. Center Reece Dismukes and OG Chad Slade have both been starters for all of their careers. OG Alex Kozan and either OT Patrick Miller or Avery Young are going to take the LT position. Shon Coleman‘s also really talented, as well. They are ‘only’ having to replace Greg Robinson, who’s gone to the NFL. This line is to tight that we don’t think freshman Braden Smith is going to get a look-in, and he may well redshirt.

RUNNING BACKS: WHERE WILL WE BE WITH MASON?

Right, so Tre’ Mason was incredible in 2013, but sadly, Mason is gone. That leaves us wondering who’s going to take up the lack. Will it be Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant be the duo who’ll start against an Arkansas side sick of losing SEC games, or will freshman Peyton Barber be the one to excite us all? Or will it be incoming freshman Roc Thomas, who is certainly elusive. Whatever happens, Auburn is DEEP at running back, with the ‘thunder and lightning’ combo of Artis-Payne and Grant looking favorites to take the position.

RECEIVERS: COATES IS KEY

The return of 900-yard receiver Sammie Coates is going to be key for Auburn, bearing in mind no other receiver on the roster caught over 300 yards last year. He also caught 7 of the 19 TDs receivers/TEs caught last year. The receiving corps will be boosted by JUCO D’haquille Williams, who is exciting everybody at the moment , and the return of Ricardo Louis, who caught one of the catches/defensive ****-ups of the 2013 season (depending on who you’re talking to).

The rich history of Auburn at tight end will continue with C.J. Uzomah returning (he had 3 TDs in ’13), and a lot of people are excited about Brandon Fulse, too, who came onto The Plains on the back of a lot of high school hype.

DEFENSE: GOT TO GET BETTER

The great thing about Auburn’s 48th-ranked defense is that its offense got them out of trouble. Apart from the games against laughable opponents (Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina, Arkansas State), Auburn didn’t give up less than 17 points to any opponent last season….but still managed to go 12-2. Auburn’s secondary ranked 116th in total pass yards given up and 80th in total rush yards given up. Will the offense be able to bail them out in 2014 again?

Anyway, in 2014, things didn’t get off to the greatest of starts. Defensive end Carl Lawson – who’s projected to be a future All-American (and could still be) is done for a majority of the season with an ACL injury (he’s had it repaired successfully). He had 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in 2013 — and two monster plays in the 2013 season which helped to send the Tigers to Atlanta. Oh, and before that it was Mincy and his arrest for pot. We expect Mincy to be out for the Arkansas game. Oh, and stud DE Dee Ford left for the NFL.

Anyway, the loss of Lawson will mean that we could see a lot of players in the rotation before his return, including LaDarius Owens and Elijah Daniel. We’ll also be expecting a little more production at DT Gabe Wright – who might be playing on the edge, if reports are to be believed.

Oh, and to the secondary. The loss of Chris Davis, Ryan White and Ryan Smith to graduation may hurt the team on paper, but let’s be honest: They didn’t exactly do a great job in 2013, did they? We know this because they were ranked 100th in the country – as we may have already have mentioned. Anyways, a lot will be expected of Jermaine Whitehead and Joshua Holsey, and Mincy – who had 14 passes defended and an INT last year – when he returns from suspension. A lot of people are excited about the arrival of JUCO Derrick Moncrief, as well as the possibilities around Travon Reed and his conversion to cornerback from WR. Trey Matthews has arrived from Georgia on transfer after being booted out of Athens after being arrested for ‘theft by deception’.

THE SCHEDULE (HOME DATES IN CAPITALS)

Aug. 30 ARKANSAS
Sept. 6 SAN JOSE STATE
Sept. 13 ** Open Date **
Sept. 20 at Kansas State
Sept. 27 LOUISIANA TECH
Oct. 4 LSU
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State
Oct. 18 ** Open Date **
Oct. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss
Nov. 8 TEXAS A&M
Nov. 15 at Georgia
Nov. 22 SAMFORD
Nov. 29 at Alabama

This isn’t the easiest of schedules. The date at Kansas State will be a really tough one (as dates in Manhattan, KS usually are), as is LSU at home, MSU away, South Carolina home, Ole Miss away, Georgia away and Alabama away. The Tigers could conceiveably lose all 7 of these games, and hardly disgrace themselves with a 5-7 record. However, we think that that the Tigers will go 8-4 for the season (losing to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and at Ole Miss), giving them a tidy bowl game, but nothing more. Why? The defense simply isn’t deep enough (especially with the loss of Lawson) or good enough, and the offense is REALLY going to miss Tre’ Mason.

 

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