Guerry Clegg

What to expect from Auburn football this season? Anything.

Saw this on Twitter the other day from @LJSLaw, a lawyer and Alabama football podcaster.

“The playoff contenders: Ala, Ga, LSU, Clem, Mich, Oh St, Okla, Tex, ND, Wash, Ore, Utah. I’ll be shocked if a team outside that list makes the playoff, won’t you?”

To which I replied:

“Shocked if Auburn makes it? Not a bit. I mean, it’s Auburn. They’ve lost their ability to shock.”

At Auburn, down is up, up is down, left is right, right is left. This is not a shot at Auburn, just acknowledgment of facts.

Facts such as:

  • Other than Alabama, Auburn is the SEC school that has played in two national championship games in the past 10 seasons.
  • In those eight other seasons, Auburn won seven or fewer regular season games five times.
  • In that span, Auburn is the only team to beat two teams ranked No. 1 in either the BCS standings or the College Football Playoff standings within a three-week span.
  • In that span, no other team played for a national championship and then lost nine games just two seasons later.

And then ...

No other team — of any era — played for a national championship one season after losing nine games.

Granted, none of this constitutes breaking news. But it serves as a reminder that there’s not a more fickle and unpredictable major college football program than Auburn.

Take a closer look at 2010, when the Tigers won the national championship, and 2013, when they were one stop away from winning another one. In each of those seasons, they had six wins over Power Five opponents by eight or fewer points.

In 2010, they beat Clemson in overtime and Kentucky on the last play of regulation. They trailed LSU late until Ontario McCalebb ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run. They trailed South Carolina and Alabama each 27-21 in the fourth quarter.

In 2013, Nick Marshall found C.J. Uzomah in the end zone with 10 seconds left to win. Tre Mason scored with 1:19 left to beat Texas A&M, and that still might not have been enough had Dee Ford not sacked Johnny Manziel.

All of that and we haven’t even mentioned The Prayer at Jordan-Hare or Kick Six.

Who knows what 2019 will hold for Auburn? But I do think that with the very notable exception of not having another Cam Newton, this may be Auburn’s most talented roster since 2004.

While it might not be wise for Gus Malzahn to publicly proclaim, “Defensively, I believe we have a chance to be the best defense that we have at least in the ten years I’ve been at Auburn,” it’s hard to disagree.

There’s not a weakness among the starting 11. They may not have quite the depth that Alabama has up front or in the secondary or that Georgia has at linebacker and in the secondary — does anybody? — they do have enough depth to withstand the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with playing eight SEC games plus Oregon.

Offensively, the Tigers are as much of a wildcard as there is. Start with the most important position in any modern offense: quarterback. Jarrett Stidham was alternately overhyped and then underappreciated. It would have been helpful to have his leadership back for his senior year. But Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix are probably better fits for Malzahn’s offense than was Stidham.

Gatewood is a redshirt freshman, Nix a true freshman. But the game has changed. Florida State beat Auburn for the national championship with a redshirt freshman, Jameis Winston. Marshall was a junior that year but had not previously played quarterback in Division I.

The next year, Ohio State won it with its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones. This was after a redshirt freshman, J.T. Barnett, had stepped in and led the Buckeyes to the playoffs.

True freshmen have started at quarterback in each of the last three national championship games — Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Jake Fromm (Georgia) and Trevor Lawrence (Clemson). Not to mention the fact that Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa started the second half against Georgia and won the game.

Between improved offensive line play and Malzahn taking control of the play-calling, the offense could be at least good enough to get by until the quarterback gains his footing.

Yeah, quarterBACK — singular. What Malzahn does not need to do is start that QB roulette again. Pick one and ride with him unless he’s just an absolute flop.

“But what about that schedule?” you may ask.

What about it? Sure, it’s tough. But those things have a way of working themselves out. Is Oregon any better than Washington was last year? Texas A&M and LSU are improved but hardly juggernauts. Same could be said for Florida, the Tigers’ other SEC East opponent along with Georgia.

Now, having said all of that, could this team lose five games? Of course. Anything from 7-5 to 11-1 — let’s keep it realistic, OK? — is in play.

I mean, it’s Auburn. Bet against them at your own peril.

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