The Auburn Tigers enter 2014 at number 6 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 12-2 (8-1) Southeastern Conference
Oh so close. You’ll hear the terms “team of destiny” and “season of destiny” thrown around about the 2013-14 Auburn Tigers, and those monikers were totally deserved. The Georgia Hail Mary. The Iron Bowl Runback. Auburn’s 2013 season was a movie you’d pick apart because it could never happen in real life.
The Tigers started the season with fairly tempered expectations for a first year head coach (Gus Malzahn) and a team that had gone 3-9 the season prior (winless in the SEC). They opened the season with a narrow, seven-point home victory over relatively non-threatening Washington State, and won the next two as well (Arkansas State and Mississippi State) before they dropped their first at #6 LSU, 35-21. It would be their last loss of 2013.
Auburn went undefeated the rest of the season, including a pair of miraculous plays to beat Georgia and Alabama which led them to the National Title game against Florida State. The Tigers reached into their hat for one more rabbit in the National Championship game, but it just wasn’t there. Florida State scored the go-ahead touchdown with just 13 seconds left on the clock and ended Auburn’s season of destiny in despair, 34-31.
2013 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, running back Tre Mason, was phenomenal – but now he’s gone, selected 75th overall by the St. Louis Rams. His 24 TDs were the most in the SEC, as were his 23 rushing touchdowns (third in the NCAA). Mason will be reunited with offensive tackle Greg Robinson in St. Louis, the second overall pick in the draft. On defense, the Tigers lost another first round talent in DE Dee Ford, as well as MLB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis (who ran back the game-winner against Alabama), and DB Ryan Smith.
What to Watch For
Quarterback – Nick Marshall threw fewer than 17 passes in five of six games to end the regular season. He flung the ball around a little more in the National Championship game (14-27 for 217 yards 2 TDs, and 1 INT), but that didn’t really produce the desired result.
Marshall didn’t practice with the team until summer camp last year, so he never really had a chance to develop within Malzahn’s system and become a pocket passer. Instead, Auburn depended heavily on the read-option game, Marshall racked up over a thousand yards on the ground, and became one of the most explosive players in the SEC. With a whole offseason to implement, develop, and fine-tune – one would imagine offensive-minded head coach Gus Malzahn will have the Tigers ready to air it out this time around.
Nick Marshall is the real deal, but he’ll start the season on the bench. Just days after he was named to the preseason Maxwell Award watch list, Marshall was cited by Georgia police for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. He was issued a citation, released, and won’t face jail time if he pays a $1,000 fine. Malzahn said his quarterback, “has been a model student, teammate, and citizen,” since transferring to Auburn from Georgia, but also that he, “made a mistake and he’ll have to deal with the consequences.” Marshall will sit on the bench for the Tigers’ opening game against Arkansas August 30.
When he gets back, Marshall will have Sammie Coates, Marcus Davis, CJ Uzomah, Ricardo Louis, and the number one junior college transfer in the country, D’haquille Williams, to help him rule the air. The senior quarterback will also contribute to the run-game when he sees the field, but the ground attack will focus on Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant – two backs who both averaged over 6 yards per carry last season.
The defense lost a lot of starters, but retained many more experienced players. Their biggest vulnerability will be in the passing game, where they lost starting DBs from an already weak unit. The rest of the SEC will be after Auburn, and they won’t be able to count on miracles like last season; it will be interesting to see if they can handle it. In any case, expect the Iron Bowl with Alabama to be one of the top-five, marquee, most important, circle-on-your-calendar regular season games this year, since both teams will be vying for a playoff spot. The winner of the SEC West will almost certainly make the playoffs, and the Iron Bowl might just decide who that will be.