Head coach: Gus Malzahn (seventh year)
Last year’s record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC), Music City Bowl win against Purdue, 63-14
Final AP ranking: Unranked
Recruiting Ranking: No. 11 (2 5-stars, 12 4-stars, 7 3-stars)
First game: Aug. 31 against Oregon (Futures available on BetAmerica)
O/U win total: 8
Gus Malzahn is under pressure to improve on a 3-5 SEC record as part of last year’s 8-5 season. It’s a tall order, with the Tigers set to face Texas A&M, Florida and LSU on the road, plus powerhouses Georgia and Alabama at home during the regular season. On top of that Auburn opens its season against a formidable Oregon team on a neutral field at AT&T Stadium.
Malzahn led Auburn to a 10-win season in 2017 but lost key pieces in the offseason, including four senior offensive linemen, which contributed to a down year in 2018. This season, however, Auburn will return starting left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho and left guard Marquel Harrell, who both could have declared for the NFL draft but decided to play one final year at Auburn. The Tigers will also bring back their other three starting offensive linemen from 2018. The big question in the offseason is whom the line will protect.
With Jarrett Stidham leaving early for the NFL draft, Joey Gatewood and 5-star recruit Bo Nix, the No. 2 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, are left to duke it out for the starting quarterback spot. Junior Malik Willis will reportedly enter the transfer portal in the offseason. The run game should also receive a boost with 4-star recruit DJ Williams, while JaTarvious Whitlow (787 yards, 6 touchdowns in 2018) also has a chance to shine in his sophomore season.
The new quarterback will inherit a depleted receiving corps, as all-time leading receiver Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton (670 yards, 5 touchdowns) left for the NFL, but sophomore Seth Williams should continue to improve. He tallied 534 yards and 5 touchdowns on 26 receptions last season. He’ll split catches with sophomore Anthony Schwartz, while junior Eli Stove and 4-star recruit Jashawn Sheffield will look to make an impact on the offense.
On defense Auburn will retain linemen Derrick Brown (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Marlon Davidson (20 tackles, 2.5 sacks), plus nickelback Javaris Davis (36 tackles, one sack). Linebacker K.J. Britt will need to fill the void left by senior Deshaun Davis (57 tackles, 3.5 sacks), while Chandler Wooten will replace Darrell Williams. The No. 1 outside linebacker in the ESPN 300, Owen Pappoe, could find himself in the mix on defense as well.
Win Total: Under 8 (-150), Over 8 (+125)
Auburn’s schedule is scary. The Tigers could end up with six losses on the season with Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama on the schedule. Even if they only suffer defeat in four of those games, then they push. The safer bet here is to take the under.
Auburn at Oregon, Aug. 31
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert decided not to enter the NFL draft, despite being a potential high pick. He’s back on offense for the Ducks, along with nine other starters. The team will also usher in the No. 7 recruiting class, featuring ESPN’s top-ranked overall player, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. Auburn should possess the better defense, but Oregon’s offense will look far more polished. Auburn is favored by 3.5, but the Ducks should squeak out a win by a field goal.
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