Boy oh boy what are we supposed to make of the perpetually weird Auburn Tigers?
When Auburn comes to Baton Rouge two bits of history will be competing with each other: The Plainsmen handed out the most lopsided beating in the LSU-Auburn series last year, 48-11. On the other hand, Auburn also hasn’t won inside Tiger Stadium since 1999. Can a new look Auburn team make it two in a row over the real Tigers? Or will the losing streak inside Death Valley extend to 22 years?
2020: (6-5, 6-4 SEC)
2021 S&P+ Projections: 28th
2021 Recruiting Class: 19th
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (first season, 69-19 at Boise State)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bobo
Defensive Coordinator: Derek Mason
The Gus Bus has finally rolled out of town, $21.5 million buyout be damned. Gus leaves Auburn after eight years, a 68-35 overall record, an SEC Championship, a West Division title in 2017, and a 3-5 record in the Iron Bowl.
In comes Bryan Harsin, who had a pretty solid run at Boise State. The Broncos may not have had the highs of the Chris Petersen era, but Boise State had four-straight 10 win seasons under Harsin including a Fiesta Bowl win in 2014.
The challenge for Harsin and new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo? Make this sweet tea spokesman into a real quarterback.
The Bo Nix roller coaster is back for year three and it’s put up or shut up time for Nix.
The former five-star has been maddeningly inconsistent through two years. He’s completed 59 percent of his passes so far and has 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Those are so-so numbers and has led to a so-so 15-9 record (11-7 in SEC play).
Those kinds of numbers may not be good enough anymore because gunning for Nix’s job is a familiar face: TJ Finley. The rising sophomore transferred to The Plains toward the end of May and he’ll be playing for a coaching staff that didn’t recruit Nix. Will Nix elevate his game and live up to that five-star billing? Or will Finley improve his game and give the staff something to think about?
Of course it may not matter who the starter is, Auburn just needs someone to exist long enough to hand the ball off to Tank Bigsby.
Bigsby earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors after an 834-yard, five-touchdown effort in 2020. But it’s hard to gage where Bigsby stands in the pecking order of SEC running backs because last year he had as many 100 yard games, four, as he did games with less than 50 yards. Put it this way: against Arkansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State, Bigsby had a combined 578 yards; but against Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee he had 109.
The passing game may take a step back because of the departures at wide receiver. Whether Nix or Finley is QB1, he won’t have Anthony Schwartz, Eli Stove, or Seth Williams to throw to. Bigsby is actually the leading returning receiver with 11 catches. As far as wide receivers, senior Shedrick Jackson leads the room with 28 catches through three years. Auburn is also hoping sophomore Elijah Canion can make the leap in year two. You may remember him because he caught a 51-yard pass against LSU. Then again you may not because who didn’t catch a 50-yard pass against Bo Pelini’s abomination of a defense?
I would shout out Auburn’s offensive line but Poseur’s attempt at praising them in last week’s unit preview set my Twitter mentions on fire by Auburn fans weirdly enough so let’s just blow past them!
If Auburn wants to finish at the top of the West, the defense will have to carry them home. Kevin Steele is out and taking his place will be former Vandy head coach Derek Mason.
Colby Wooden is back after a strong freshman season. Wooden had 41 tackles, 9 for loss, and added another 3.5 sacks. He’ll have fifth-year senior Tyrone Truesdell lining up next to him at nose tackle and Eku Leota coming off the edge as a pass rushing specialist. Leota comes to The Plains from Northwestern, where he was the program’s all-time leader in sacks.
Speaking of linebackers, there may not be a better duo than Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe. The two combined for 216 tackles last season.
The secondary has a wealth of experience. Auburn’s best DB is undoubtedly Roger McCreary, who is back for his senior season. Nehemiah Pritchett was a solid No. 2 corner and is beloved by the advanced analytics crowd.
Fewest yards per coverage snap allowed this season:— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 5, 2021
1. Josh Jobe, Bama - 0.40
2. Eric Stoke, Georgia - 0.51
3. Patrick Surtain II, Bama - 0.52
4. Nehemiah Pritchett, Auburn - 0.53 pic.twitter.com/8OHKQCLXtl
Auburn’s secondary also got a massive talent boost in the form of West Virginia transfer Dreshun Miller. Miller had 31 tackles last year in Morgantown and nine pass break ups.
Safety isn’t as settled, but Auburn does bring back Smoke Monday for his senior season. Our friends over at College and Magnolia say sophomore Chris Thompson Jr. is the leader in the clubhouse for the starting strong safety job.
September 4 vs. Akron
September 11 vs. Alabama State
September 18 @ Penn State
September 25 vs. Georgia State
October 2 @ LSU
October 9 vs. Georgia
October 16 @ Arkansas
October 23 BYE
October 30 vs. Ole Miss
November 6 @ Texas A&M
November 13 vs. Mississippi State
November 20 @ South Carolina
November 27 vs. Alabama