#34 Auburn Football 2016 Preview

Auburn Tigers
Overall Rank: #34
#8 SEC
Auburn would like to forget the 2015 campaign. The team went 2-6 in SEC action with their wins coming against Kentucky and Texas A&M. With non-conference wins against Louisville, San Jose State, Idaho and Jacksonville State, which took overtime, Auburn was at least able to go to a bowl game. And there they beat up on Memphis 31-10 at the Birmingham Bowl. With such high expectations, it remains to be seen if the 2015 campaign was just a bump in the road or if this is the start of a tough stretch for the Tigers.
2015 Record: 7-6, 2-6
2015 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl vs. Memphis (W 31-10)
Coach: Gus Malzahn (27-13 at Auburn, 36-16 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Rhett Lashlee, Kodi Burns
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Steele, Wesley McGriff
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jovon Robinson, RB, 639 yards
Passing: Sean White, QB, 1,166 yards
Receiving: Jason Smith, WR, 203 yards
Tackles: Johnathan Ford, S, 118
Sacks: Montravius Adams, DT, 2.5
Interceptions: Carlton Davis, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Kerryon Johnson, QB Jeremy Johnson, OL Branden Smith, LB Tre Williams, S Tray Matthews, K Daniel Carlson
Key Losses: RB Peyton Barber, WR Ricardo Louis, WR Melvin Ray, LB Kris Frost, LB Cassanova McKinzy. DB Blake Countess, DB Jonathan Jones
Oddly enough, Auburn may have to ride their defense if they are going to be successful this season. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have plenty of talent to work with. The front line was hindered by injuries last season and they ended up totaling just 1.46 sacks per game. With Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams leading a deep and talented line, there is no way the Tigers rank 104th in the country in sacks again in 2016. The secondary is in good shape too with safeties Johnathan Ford and Tray Matthews returning. Ford led the team with 118 tackles. Cornerback Carlton Davis is coming off a very promising freshman campaign and Auburn adds transfers Jamel Dean from Ohio State and Marshall Taylor from Miami (OH) to add competition for the other corner spot opposite of Davis. The biggest concern is at linebacker, but there is younger talent like Darrell Williams and Tre’ Williams ready to step up. T.J. Neal, a graduate transfer from Illinois, will likely step into the middle linebacker spot.
Auburn’s offensive struggles in 2015 stemmed from inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Jeremy Johnson and Sean White split the time last season, but the duo threw as many interceptions as they did touchdowns. John Franklin III redshirted at Florida State in 2013 before hitting the junior college ranks. He is a good fit in this offense and can do some damage with his arm and legs, but playing at Auburn is quite a bit different than playing at East Mississippi Community College. But Franklin has the athleticism to make plays and that could be what gets him the starting job. The Tigers need to find a playmaker at wide receiver too after losing Ricardo Louis. Freshman Nate Craig-Myers could be the answer. The offensive line has some rebuilding to do as well and that could hinder the best part of the Auburn offense; the ground game. Jovon Robinson rushed for just 639 yards and three touchdowns last season, but most of that came in the last six games of the season. Robinson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and is poised for a big senior season as long as the line can come together.
The Bottom Line:
As usual, Auburn has plenty of talent. Last year it just never came together. And in the SEC West there is rarely an easy contest. Non-conference games against Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama A&M should result in three victories. The other non-conference matchup is the season opener against Clemson. The good news with the schedule is that the first five games are at home and the Tigers only have four road contests. With Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU part of that opening home stretch, do not expect Auburn to get off to a 5-0 start, but even three or four wins from that group of games should build enough confidence for the Tigers to stick around in the SEC West title chase for a little while and at least win seven games.
Projected Bowl: Music City Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 196.4 (35th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 173.6 (110, 12)
Total Offense: 370.0 (94, 10)
Scoring Offense: 27.5 (75, 8)
Rushing Defense: 182.7 (81, 11)
Pass Defense: 222.5 (63, 11)
Total Defense: 405.2 (71, 13)
Scoring Defense: 26.0 (54, 11)
Turnover Margin: 0.15 (51, 8)
Sacks: 1.46 (104, 13)
Sacks Allowed: 1.46 (33, 4)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#13 Carl Lawson
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#9 Derrick Brown
#27 Nate Craig-Myers
#32 Marlon Davidson
#64 Antwuan Jackson
#97 Elijah Stove
#114 Kyle Davis
#144 John Broussard
#183 Woody Barrett
#219 Landon Rice