Being the head coach of Nick Saban’s archrival is tough. Gus Malzahn has had a very successful seven years at Auburn, with a 53-22 record overall, including an SEC title and a BCS National Championship berth. That’s tremendous for 95% of programs in the country, but when your fans are comparing you to Nick Saban’s Alabama, it just doesn’t stack up, which has led to growing tensions between Malzhan and his fan base, especially due to his 2-5 head to head record against his rival. Auburn was very good last year, going 8-5, and with 14 starters back they could be even better, but they will be faced with what is maybe the toughest schedule in the country.
This offense has a lot of talent and I think they could be one of the most improved in the nation as long as they can figure out the quarterback situation. Jarrett Stidham is off to the NFL, and last year’s backup, Malik Willis, transferred to Liberty. That leaves one of three freshmen to take the reigns, Joey Gatewood, Cord Sandberg, or five-star true freshman and Alabama Mr. Football Bo Nix.
Whoever the QB is, they will have tremendous talent around themselves in the skills corps. JaTarvious Whitlow and Shaun Shivers are back at RB after 5.2 and 5.3 yards per carry respectively as freshmen, and upperclassmen Kam Martin and Malik Miller return to provide some experience to the running back group. The line returns all five starters, all of whom will be seniors, making it one of the best in the country.
At receiver, the top two are gone but deep threat sophomores Seth Williams (20.5 YPC) and Anthony Schwartz (16.2 YPC) both return, and the Tigers return Eli Stove from injury after he started six games in 2017. Arizona State transfer tight end Jay Jay Wilson will get some looks in the passing game as well.
The quarterback situation is up in the air, but with some mobile options at QB and the entire line and running back groups back, I think they’ll actually improve despite the loss of Stidham.
On defense, Auburn has been one of the best in the country for years, and that seems unlikely to change in 2019. DT Derrick Brown was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country last year, racking up 4.5 sacks and six TFL. Ends Marlon Davidson (3.5 sacks) and Nick Coe (seven sacks, 6.5 TFL) return along with ace rush end Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant who had 3.5 sacks as a backup last year.
In the secondary, four starters return in a group led by the dynamite cornerback duo of Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis (combined 19 PBUS, three INTs). The Tigers also return both starters at safety and have a few intriguing young names waiting in the wings.
The linebacking corps experiences some turnover, but all of the projected starters played some significant time as backups last season and the group also adds a five-star true freshman, Owen Pappoe. I think the defense should be awesome once again thanks in large to one of the best lines and the country.
The schedule is really, really difficult. The Tigers will face my #1, #2, #4, #8, #11, #13, and #17. That’s really rough, especially for a team starting a freshman quarterback who will be thrust into a highly watched season kickoff neutral site game against Oregon for his very first college snaps. This team has top-15 talent, and I feel really great about them in the abstract, but with this schedule, I’m not sure the improvement will show up in the record.
|Date||Opponent||OPp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|31-Aug||vs. oregon (ARlington, TX)||17||4.0|
|21-Sep||at texas A&M||11||-3.3|
Average Projected Record: 7.0 wins, 5.0 losses (3.5 wins, 4.5 losses)