Preview 2016: Auburn & Gus Malzahn Have To Rock Again

Auburn Tigers Preview 2016: Gus Malzahn and the offense have to rock again.

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2016 Auburn Preview
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It’s absolutely impossible to do if you’re Auburn, but try to take Alabama out of the equation.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course the Iron Bowl is a 365-day-a-year thing that preoccupies a state without any major professional sports to focus on, but as long as Nick Saban is at the helm during this current run, the only thing for Auburn to do is to just wait it out.

Eventually Alabama will falter just like all great college football dynasties do, so the question going forward for Auburn is whether or not Gus Malzan is the guy to get it done and make the program a bigger consistent winner until then.

Coming within a drive of winning the 2014 BCS Championship, the bar was set at an impossibly high level that Malzahn and his offense haven’t been able to match. But that’s okay as long as the Tigers are at least in the area code of winning the SEC West and can go into the Alabama game with a shot at something big, and that hasn’t happened over the last two seasons.

And Alabama being amazing hasn’t helped.

Ever since starting out 2014 5-0, Auburn has gone an ugly 10-11, needing a bowl win over Memphis last season to come up with a winning campaign. Outside of a 34-7 blowout to Georgia in 2014 and last year’s 45-21 uggo at LSU, few of those 11 losses were particularly awful, and there were plenty of opportunities to pull out wins in almost all those defeats. But that’s life in the SEC. Sometimes you get the right breaks and the close wins – like the Tigers did in 2013 – and sometimes you suffer four losses by eight points or fewer, like last season.

The positive, though, is that now the expectations are lowered on a national scale after the way the last two years have gone. The West will be all about LSU and Alabama, and Texas A&M and Ole Miss will receive plenty of attention for a variety of reasons, while Auburn won’t be seen as anything more than an also-ran after no real offensive punch this spring.

But be careful – this could easily be a dangerous team that makes a big push for something big. Beat Clemson in the opener, and with Texas A&M and LSU at home in September, and the narrative might quickly change on the Malzahn era if it’s a great first month.

For that to happen, the offense that hit the skids last season has to settle on the right quarterback to run the show. The running game needs to find its groove again to help out an ineffective passing attack, and it all starts with a veteran line that should be far better.

The defense loses coordinator Will Muschamp to the South Carolina gig, but Kevin Steele has a nice group returning that should be far stronger now that Carl Lawson is back and healthy up front to crank up the pass rush.

It’s not like Auburn will go 3-9 and make a coaching change easy like it was able to do at the end of the Gene Chizik era, but Malzahn had better hit the eight-win mark and the team has to look good doing it.

Or just beat Alabama.