Auburn University

‘One of the toughest in college football’: Auburn football preparing for brutal 2019 schedule

Make no mistake: Auburn’s 2019 football schedule is, objectively, one of the toughest in the nation.

The Tigers already compete in the SEC’s Western Division, one of the toughest top-to-bottom divisions in college football, and the success of cross-division rival Georgia adds yet another wrinkle to the Tigers’ annual slate of opponents.

This year, though, it might get even tougher.

The Tigers open against Oregon in the AdvoCare Classic in Arlington, Texas, on August 31. The Ducks are no pushover — quarterback Justin Herbert threw for a whopping 29 touchdowns and more than 3,100 yards in 2018, and he’s surrounded by talent. Malzahn called him “one of the best in college football” during his opening statement at SEC Media Days.

“Our schedule, once again, is one of the toughest in college football,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. “The thing about us with our schedule, the first part of our schedule is a man schedule. So we need to go up in a hurry.”

The Tigers and Ducks have only met once, the 2011 BCS National Championship, which Auburn won 22-19.

But the Tigers’ tough schedule does not stop there.

Auburn travels to Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M and 100,000-plus-seat Kyle Field on September 21. The Tigers return home the following week to host Mississippi State before a brutal three-game road stretch that includes Florida (October 5), Arkansas (October 19) and LSU (October 26).

Auburn won the last two games against the Aggies, and took the previous three against the Gators. However, the two have not met since 2011, and the Gators look to be trending positively entering Dan Mullen’s second season at the helm. LSU has won the previous two against Auburn.

“We haven’t been to Florida in a long time and noticed that we’re their homecoming opponent,” Malzahn said. “We have not been too many people’s homecoming opponents in the past.”

It’s a schedule tough enough to make even the most fierce Tiger ball up like a kitten. ESPN’s Chris Low rated it the toughest overall Power 5 schedule, and ESPN’s Football Power Index ratings predict the Tigers to finish 7-4.

The Tigers finish 2019 with the annual games against Georgia and Alabama, two of the most successful SEC programs of the past three seasons, separated by a game against Samford. The silver lining, if there is one, is that all three of those games come at home.

“Anybody that’s said to be in the top 10, I want to go against,” Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown said. “I don’t think, in college football, there’s even subpar competition. I think, week in and week out, you’re going to get folks’ best.”

Recent history regarding the Tigers’ two biggest rivals is not on the Tigers’ side.

The Crimson Tide has won four of the last five over Auburn. Georgia has won five of the previous six.

The 2017 season serves as an outlier to recent trends, and would be a best-case scenario for the Tigers this year.

The Tigers trounced No. 1 Georgia 40-17 in the 2017 regular season, then two weeks later beat No. 1 Alabama 26-14 in front of a raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. Of course, Georgia then beat the Tigers 28-7 in the SEC Championship that season en route to a College Football Playoff National Championship appearance.

There’s no telling what could happen, and many questions remain about the 2019 Tigers. Those questions should be answered by the Oregon game (Malzahn said he’d name a starting quarterback after fall camp), but it only gets tougher after the Tigers open the season in Texas.

“I am at Auburn to win,” defensive end Marlon Davidson said. “I want a ring this year. I really do. Coach Malzahn is going to put us in the best situation that we can be in with hard work and dedication. I just feel like this year is the year to show people that we are great.”

Full 2019 Auburn football schedule

* Denotes neutral site game. Bold denotes home game

- *Oregon, August 31 (Arlington, TX)

- vs. Tulane, Sept. 7

- vs. Kent State, Sept. 14

- at Texas A&M, Sept. 21

- vs. Mississippi State, Sept. 28

- at Florida, Oct. 5

- at Arkansas, Oct. 19

- at LSU, Oct. 26

- vs. Ole Miss, Nov. 2

- vs. Georgia, Nov. 16

- vs. Samford, Nov. 23

- vs. Alabama, Nov. 30

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.