Preview 2017: Auburn Has The Pieces In Place To Win The SEC
With a key addition and the return of some major playmakers, Auburn might be able to pull off something huge.
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Auburn has the pieces in place again, so now what?
Of course, going 23-16 since finishing off the 2013 season with a BCS Championship appearance isn’t okay – especially when Alabama has been a regular on the College Football Playoff circuit – but last season showed the spark that wasn’t there in 2014 and 2015.
Last year’s late problems can be blamed a bit on injuries – the team just wasn’t right against Georgia – and there’s no real complaining when three of the five losses came to Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma, but 8-5 is 8-5.
And the Crimson Tide went 14-1 – and that’s still the problem for everyone in the SEC West.
However, Auburn is different. It’s been one of the few teams able to make even the slightest dent in the Nick Saban dynasty since it got rolling. LSU has, too, but it’s been a while, and the other SEC West teams haven’t really been all that close.
Texas A&M has made a whole lot of noise, but it hasn’t gone to an SEC Championship or played for a national title in the last five years like Auburn has.
As great as LSU was under Les Miles for a long, long time, its last four bowl appearances were the Texas, Music City, Outback and Chick-fil-A. In that same span, Auburn played for the BCS Championship and went to a Sugar Bowl.
Ole Miss has had its fun, Mississippi State was No. 1 for a cup of coffee a few years ago, and Arkansas has been feisty, but Auburn has seen what a national championship game looks like twice in the last seven seasons.
Auburn has proven if can rise up once in a while and take down the monster, partly because it has to live Alabama hatred every single day of every single year. Other SEC programs desperately want to get past the Crimson Tide, but Auburn is the one that has to.
Of course Tiger fans want their program to ruse up and be the West’s dominant force like Alabama is, but for now, for this year, just coming up with one of those special seasons would be enough – worry about the consistency later.
And this year’s team might just have the right mix to do it.
What was the big issue last year? The passing game couldn’t rise up when the running game didn’t rumble like it needed to.
Problem solved with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham in to make the Tigers a bit more diverse. With a great group of young receivers to work with, the attack should take over at times.
But the ground game will still rock, with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson one of the nation’s top rushing tandems – if they can stay in one piece. And this year, if they can’t, that’s where Stidham kicks it in.
The defense needs to come up with a pass rush without Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, but the secondary should be terrific, the linebacking corps solid, and the defensive front promising enough to hold its own despite the loss of the two stars.
All that should be good enough to be in the hunt for big things, but throw in Daniel Carlson – possibly the nation’s best kicker – and the rest of the great special teams, and all three phases are terrific.
The schedule might not help – road games at Clemson, LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M aren’t nice – but Alabama? That’s in Jordan-Hare.
After years of mediocrity, and after all of the flaming hot seat discussion, Gus Malzahn has put together the right mix, the right team, and the right blend to not just be back in the SEC race, but to actually win it.
And unlike so many others, Auburn knows it’s possible.