Alas, the days of the BCS are over and America has the playoff system (or at least a version of it) that we’ve all been clamoring for. Since the good folks in Las Vegas are the closest thing we have to fortune tellers (all apologies to Nate Silver), we are going to explore the six teams with the best odds of winning the National Championship and look at the main concerns that can derail them.
Gus Malzahn’s speed-option offense has been nothing short of magical. Malzahn’s wizardry took a 3-9 Auburn squad in 2012 to within seconds of winning the biggest big screen TV (Vizio BCS National Title). Malzahn is simply a coaching machine whose results only reflect the efficiency of someone making a deal with the devil. One would assume that in Year Two of Gus at the helm, the Tigers will be even more efficient with increased familiarity of the offense.
More good news….Malzahn returns his starting quarterback….who’s still learning how to be a quarterback. Former defensive back Nick Marshall improved significantly from week-to-week in 2013, and it’s expected that he will take significant leaps as a passer this fall which will open up the read-option even further.
Defensively, the only major losses from last season were first-round draft pick defensive end Dee Ford, and miracle-field-goal-attempt-returner Chris Davis. The Tigers defense wasn’t tremendous last season, and with a great Malzahn recruiting class there is plenty of room for improvement.
So why won’t the Tigers win the National Title?
Talk to most FCS coaches and they’ll tell you that one of the important things to making a national title run is a manageable schedule. Is Auburn’s schedule manageable? There are some certain potholes, if not complete roadblocks.
The Tigers will coast through the early part of their schedule as they open with Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who are currently riding a nine-game losing streak, and the San Jose State Spartans — the Jesus’s of their athletic department (sacrificing themselves for the money to operate their other sports). Auburn will then travel to the “Little Apple” to take on Kansas State before returning home to crush Louisiana Tech.
Now the fun begins. Gus Malzahn will try to exact a bit of revenge against the only SEC team to beat him a season ago as he matches wits with well-known herbivore Les Miles at Jordan-Hare. A potential trap game is up next as the Tigers travel to Oktibbeha County to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After a week of rest, Malzahn will battle with Steve Spurrier and his SEC East favorite South Carolina Gamecocks. Following that game, Auburn travels two of the next three weeks to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels and then between the hedges to take on Georgia, with a little home date against Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A & M Aggies sandwiched in. That stretch of schedule is as tough as any in the nation.
Auburn gets a breather in another cash game against the Samford Bulldogs, but then they take on a very angry Nick Saban (what else is new?) looking for some revenge. Only Miles’ LSU Tigers have beaten Saban twice in a row since he’s taken over at Alabama, and still Saban went on to win the national title thus proving that even when you beat Saban, he still wins (cue DJ Khaled).
Why else won’t the Tigers win the title?
We believe that Auburn will score a lot of points this season. Will they be able to score them with consistency against some of the best defenses the SEC has to offer without two of the top three offensive players a season ago? Auburn lost second-overall draft pick Greg Robinson to the St. Louis Rams, as well as Heisman finalist Tre Mason. It’s not impossible that they will reload and be better but replacing that type of talent is certainly a question that needs to be answered.
Although Malzahn’s players will have more familiarity with his system with another off-season’s worth of work, so will his opponents. Gus is an absolute magician and a decade from now we’ll be speaking about him in a Hall of Fame type of capacity. With that said, there are some great defensive minds in his conference and as difficult as the speed option is to replicate, they will have much more reps and information and game experience to look at.