Last season Auburn had what most would call a fairytale season, characterized by the road they took to get to the National Championship. Auburn punched its ticket to Atlanta by winning the SEC West after closing out the year with two exciting victories at home. The story started with the Tigers’ win against Georgia. The W was secured by Ricardo Louis’ touchdown on a desperate 4th and long, 73-yard deflected pass from Nick Marshall.
It was followed by what the college football world is calling the best ending to a game in college football history. The Tigers, with the help of Gus Malzahn’s gutsy play calling, stunned Alabama in the Iron Bowl when Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama field-goal attempt for a touchdown as time expired. By doing so, Auburn snatched the SEC West title right out of Alabama’s hands, and would go on to beat Missouri in Atlanta en route to a date with Florida State in the BCS Championship game.
Unfortunately, the Tigers’ fairytale season didn’t have a happy ending. They fell short in Pasadena, where Jameis Winston led the Seminoles to a National Championship victory. Critics have said the Auburn Tigers were lucky to even be in the SEC Championship, much less the title game, crediting their appearance in the title game to the “luck” they had against Georgia and Alabama. Lucky or unlucky, the Tigers were able to pull out wins when they needed to, but can they have the same success this season? What are Auburn’s chances of repeating last year’s miracle and making it to the National Championship for a third time in 4 seasons?
The last team to do so was bitter rival Alabama, who made it to the title game in the 2009, 2011, and 2012 seasons. Most would predict Auburn’s chances are slim due to the undeniable fact that the SEC West is one of the strongest in college football, providing a most difficult path to repeating as champions.
It’s too soon to say whether or not this is a rebuilding year for Malzahn’s Tigers, but here are five factors to consider before you tackle Auburn’s chances of returning to the National Championship game:
- The Tigers return four starters on their offensive line this year. There is something to be said about an O-Line with experience. Look at what happened to Bama’s offensive line last year. The Tide were rebuilding with new parts up front and it showed as they struggled here all season long.
- Davis and safety Ryan Smith, major pieces of the secondary defense last year are gone. However, Robenson Therezie, Jonathon Mincy, and Jermaine Whitehead will return to bigger roles here. The Tigers finished last season second-to-last in the SEC in pass defense, giving up an average 257.7 yards per game, so this is an area where the Tigers will have to improve in order to succeed this year.
- There have been quite a few position changes to note this offseason. Once a five-star wide receiver, Trovon Reed has moved to cornerback for his senior season. Former running back Jonathan Ford, who has put on 13 pounds this offseason, will switch sides and move to safety.
- In recent years, Auburn has had success on special teams, but with Davis and Tre Mason not returning, Auburn will look to (year/position) Quan Bray and (year/position) Corey Grant to fill the void Davis and Mason left behind.
- The Tigers are trying to accomplish an incredibly difficult task. Making it to back-to-back title games is a tough feat, but even more so when you play in the SEC. Not to mention this year marks the introduction of the new four-team playoff system, meaning Auburn has to win another game in between the conference championship and title game, should they make it so far.
There is no denying what Gus Malzahn has built at Auburn. It may be difficult to repeat as champions, but no one is sleeping on the Tigers anymore.