Tomorrow marks exactly one month before the Auburn Tigers kick off their 2017 season on September 2. It’s Gus Malzahn’s fifth season at the controls, and his team has a lot to prove.
Despite leading the SEC in rushing and going on a midseason six-game winning streak, the 2016 season felt incomplete for the Tigers. Embarrassing losses to Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama amidst abysmal offensive game plans left a bad taste in Auburn’s mouth.
This season, they’re gunning for a second SEC Championship Game appearance under Malzahn, but to do that, they have to topple Alabama. They’ve turned to a fresh offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey to provide some desperately needed balance, and will hope that another JUCO transfer at quarterback can weave some magic under center.
If all goes according to plan (the passing game evolves, the running game remains a punishing juggernaut, and the defense keeps terrorizing opposing offensive lines), Auburn could be in for a pretty special season.
Let’s dive in to how each game could shake out.
September 2 vs Georgia Southern
First up is one of the few teams in the FBS that enjoy running the ball more than Auburn in Georgia Southern (50 attempts per game in 2016). Fortunately, the Tigers excel in stuffing the run, so this opener shouldn’t be much trouble. It could also give Auburn fans a taste of what life with Jarrett Stidham will be like.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Georgia Southern 10
September 9 at Clemson
Dabo Sweeney is replacing his school’s best quarterback ever — no team can pull that off without at least a couple of snags. The Tigers are hungry for redemption after last year’s embarrassing offensive performance, and the defensive line will pin their ears back to come after whoever is under center in place of Deshaun Watson. It’ll be close, but Auburn pulls off a huge upset of the defending national champs on the road.
Prediction: Auburn 28, Clemson 24
September 16 vs Mercer
Just a tune-up before the first SEC road game of the season. Expect all of the starters to be out by halftime, and don’t be surprised if Auburn racks up 500 rushing yards or more. Just reference the highlights from the Tigers’ matchup with Alabama A&M last year.
Prediction: Auburn 42, Mercer 7
September 23 at Missouri
This matchup will be quite a test for the Tigers’ defense. However, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Auburn offense. Missouri finished 12th in the SEC last year in points and yards per game, and was especially bad at defending the run (233.3 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry). This game will likely turn into a shootout, but Auburn will prove too much for Missouri to overcome.
Prediction: Auburn 35, Missouri 28
September 30 vs Mississippi State
Round two versus an improving Nick Fitzgerald should prove much more challenging for the Auburn defense, but the rising junior has fewer weapons around him than last year. The Tigers’ offense shredded the Bulldogs on the ground last year, and should turn to Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson to carry the load in Auburn’s first SEC home game.
Prediction: Auburn 30, Mississippi State 23
October 7 vs Ole Miss
A home game against a team with an interim head coach and no bowl game to play for is certainly promising. This is also the same defense that Pettway gashed for 236 yards last year. Advantage, Auburn. And now the Tigers are 6-0 headed into a showdown in Death Valley.
Prediction: Auburn 35, Ole Miss 24
October 14 at LSU
Two of the SEC’s best rushing attacks and strongest defenses go head-to-head, and this game will be a battle from start to finish. Auburn emerged victorious last year thanks to six(!!) field goals from Daniel Carlson, and the senior kicker will once again prove to be the difference. A late field goal will give Auburn the win.
Prediction: Auburn 24, LSU 21
October 21 at Arkansas
Auburn bulldozed the Razorbacks last year to the tune of 56-3 behind a season-high 543 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Austin Allen and Co. will keep it closer in 2017, but an Arkansas offense playing without its top rusher and top two receivers from last year won’t be able to keep up with an Auburn offense that should have found its rhythm and identity by now.
Prediction: Auburn 28, Arkansas 21
November 4 at Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin will be coaching for his job this year, so he’ll pull out all the stops to beat an undefeated Auburn team coming to College Station. It’ll be Auburn’s third straight SEC road game and Texas A&M’s offense always gives the Tigers trouble, and the Aggies will have nothing to lose. The game is close until the end, but Texas A&M will pull off a late victory.
Prediction: Texas A&M 28, Auburn 27
November 11 vs Georgia
This is the other matchup Auburn’s offense will be angry about, after not picking up a single first down in the second half of last year’s 10-7 loss to Georgia. A home matchup with an inconsistent quarterback in Jacob Eason will give the Tigers just the edge they need to out-duel an excellent defense coached by Kirby Smart.
Prediction: Auburn 20, Georgia 17
November 18 vs Louisiana-Monroe
An easy win for Auburn, this one could get a little sloppy if Malzahn and Co. are looking ahead to Alabama’s visit the following week. However, the Tigers will take care of business and notch win number ten.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Louisiana-Monroe 14
November 25 vs Alabama
Gus Malzahn compared his team’s intensity to that of his 2013 team, which gave us the legendary Kick Six.
And just like in 2013, this Iron Bowl will determine the SEC West champ. Alabama will likely enter the game undefeated, but Auburn will have something it didn’t in last year’s 30-12 loss: a quality quarterback who is healthy. The two teams will struggle to put points on the board in the first half, then the offenses will settle into their rhythms and trade scores in the second half until the Tigers come up with a critical stop late in the fourth quarter. It won’t be as epic as the 2013 finish, but this Iron Bowl will become an instant classic.
Prediction: Auburn 21, Alabama 20
Auburn will drop its third straight road game to Texas A&M, but defeat Alabama in the Iron Bowl to make its third trip to the SEC Championship Game since 2010. The Tigers defeat the SEC East champs (likely a rematch with Georgia), and punch their ticket to their first College Football Playoff berth.
This entire season hinges upon the predicted stardom of Jarrett Stidham. If he’s as great as many are hoping, Auburn will have a special season. The running game is fantastic, the defense is as talented and deep as its ever been, the Tigers have the best kicker in the country. All Auburn needs is the right guy under center, and hopefully that’s what they have.