We've already predicted the season's wins and losses for each SEC school, including Auburn, now we'll work backwards through the 2014 Alabama schedule and preview each game (besides the cupcakes), ending with West Virginia.
What Happened Last Year?
How Does Auburn Look In 2014?
What a difference a year makes, right? This time last year no one, not even its own fan base, thought Auburn would win more than 6-7 games, and for some even that was a stretch. Most believed Auburn would be more competitive under new head coach Gus Malzahn, and after Chizik's dismal 2012 season, improvement was almost a given. But not even the most ardent Auburn fan could have predicted 12-2, an SEC championship and a national championship appearance.
And I can humbly admit, my very own preview of Auburn was laughable but at least I wasn't the only one who completely whiffed on the Tigers in 2013. So though we typically don't like to give Auburn any amount of praise, a tip of the cap is at least in order for such an impressive turnaround.
With the pleasantries out of the way, what should we, as Alabama fans, make of Auburn in 2014?
Bear with me here as I try and stay objective.
Auburn returns a healthy portion of both its offense and defense (seven starters on D alone). The one player Auburn will have the toughest time replacing is most certainly Tre Mason who was a huge chunk of their offensive production in 2013.
How do you replace a guy who had nearly 2,000 yards of offense in a single season and 600+ in just three games? You don't, at least not with one guy.
Auburn will likely look to freshman Racean Thomas and seniors Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne to fill the void but expect Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford to push for playing time, as well. But don't let the loss of Mason fool you, the Tigers have plenty of talent at running back to more than make up for Mason's departure.
At quarterback, Nick Marshall is back for his senior year but some Auburn fans are wondering how he'll handle the spot light after a rough off-season. I expect him to continue to be the run first, pass second quarterback he was in '13 but you have to think he'll improve his passing numbers, even if just slightly.
The biggest question mark for the Auburn offense isn't at quarterback, running back or even wide receiver, where they also return Sammy Coates, but at offensive line. Greg Robinson is gone but Reese Dismukes returns for his senior year. Left guard Alex Kozan, who started all 14 games as a freshmen, is out for the year after back surgery.
So where does the Auburn offensive line go from here?
Chad Slade has flipped from right guard to left guard and Avery Young has switched positions. Young is moving from tackle to guard, Patrick Miller steps up as a starting tackle again and Shon Coleman figures to start at the other tackle spot- AuburnTigers.com
Shon Coleman, you may remember, was the #3 ranked offensive lineman in the '10 recruiting class but was diagnosed with cancer and missed the past three seasons. I've never really pulled for an Auburn player before but it's hard not to like a guy who beat cancer and has now made his way back on the field as a starter.
My general feeling is the Auburn offense, with Gus calling the plays, won't see much of a drop off. It's the defense, especially the back end, that may struggle once again.
Dee Ford is now in the NFL and freshman defensive lineman (now a sophomore) Carl Lawson underwent knee surgery in May and the timetable for his return is still unclear. Of course, Auburn isn't without depth across the defensive line, it's just a tad young. Gabe Wright returns and they can lean on LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel and six newcomers to help solidify what may be seen as a weakness.
Along side Cassanova McKinzey and Kris Frost, true freshman Tre Williams should make an immediate impact for a linebacking corps that struggled for most of 2013.
The weakest link for the Auburn defense in 2014 will most assuredly be in the defensive backfield. Perhaps Josh Holsey, who missed that back end of last year with a torn ACL, looks to be the answer at boundary corner but the Tiger secondary has a long way to go to make up for the woes of 2013. Last year the Auburn defensive backs ranked 75th in passing yards per attempt, 55th in touchdowns allowed, 62nd in passer rating and 102nd in passing yards allowed per game. And this team made it all the way to the national championship game? Inconceivable.
Why Auburn Might Win
I honestly don't want to imagine a world where Auburn wins back-back Iron Bowls, especially how the last one ended, but 'Bama fans must face the truth, Auburn winning is not unthinkable.
The popular opinion among the 'Bama fan base is that, after multiple "lucky" wins last year, Auburn will regress to the mean and are likely looking at three-four losses in 2014. Maybe this hope becomes reality or maybe Auburn is able to put together another miracle season. Luckily, we'll soon find out but unlike this time last year, I believe Auburn can win. NOTE: I DIDN'T SAY THEY WILL WIN BUT THAT THEY CAN.
Now, the how is a different story and likely won't look like 2013. I would imagine, if Auburn is able to get a win in Tuscaloosa, it will have to do so on the back of the defense and not the offense.
Call me an optimistic gump but something tells me, with how the 'Bama defense performed last year, especially the front seven, Alabama will be on a mission from god. If Auburn's offensive line struggles, like some project, I see them having a hard time controlling the line of scrimmage, which would spell disaster against a motivated, looking for redemption, 'Bama defensive line.
This would mean the Auburn defense will need to force a low scoring game by getting pressure on ::Insert starting Alabama QB here:: and bottling up the 'Bama rushing attack. If they are able to do this, and the game is close in the 4th quarter, will memories of 2013 begin to creep into the mind of the 'Bama players and fanbase?
Why Alabama Might Win:
Motivation? Anger? Pissed off for greatness? Fear of being embarrassed, again? Take your pick. We all expect 'Bama to be good, again, and the #2 preseason ranking reflects that belief, but just how good is still the question, at least in my mind.
As I said above, I believe the 'Bama defense will be highly motivated to prove it doesn't have a Gus Malzahn problem and can stop the HUNH offense. We've recruited the type of players along the front seven who have the size, speed and agility to stand up to the high number of snaps against the HUNH but also the girth, yes girth, to hold up against LSU and Arkansas. So if Alabama plans on winning and erasing the memories of '13, it has to start with the defense..
What I Think Will Happen:
What I want to see happen is another 2008, 2011, or 2012. I want to see Alabama once again dominate Auburn for four quarters, leaving no doubt of which team runs the State of Alabama. Unfortunately, trying to predict a game 18 weeks in advance, as we saw last year, is a fools errand.
But to err on the side of caution, I will follow my gut which tells me Alabama pulls out the win 34-21.
If you're up for it, SBN's Bill Connely has a great write up on Auburn. Seriously, go check it out but be prepared, he thinks they'll be pretty darn good.
|8/30/2014||vs. West Virginia||Atlanta, Georgia|
|9/6/2014||vs. Florida Atlantic||Tuscaloosa, Ala.||W|
|9/13/2014||vs. Southern Miss||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|9/20/2014||vs. Florida||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|10/4/2014||at Ole Miss||Oxford, Mississippi|
|10/11/2014||at Arkansas||Fayetteville, Arkansas|
|10/18/2014||vs. Texas A&M||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|10/25/2014||at Tennessee||Knoxville, Tenn.|
|11/8/2014||at LSU||Baton Rouge, Louisiana|
|11/15/2014||vs. Mississippi State||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|11/22/2014||vs. Western Carolina||Tuscaloosa, Ala.||W|
|11/29/2014||vs. Auburn *||Tuscaloosa, Ala.||W|