A hype video seemed most appropriate here considering no team in the conference, and potentially the nation, has more hype entering the 2015 season than the Auburn Tigers. Now the term “hype” often carries a negative connotation, because it is associated with undue or undeserved adoration. However, just because the praise hasn’t necessarily been earned yet, does not mean that it will prove to be folly in the future. I think Auburn will be very good this season, but I’m just not sure that is such a foregone conclusion, as the pundits would have you believe.
Jeremy Johnson is one of the biggest reasons for the Auburn “hype wagon” to be this full. Admittedly, Johnson has been phenomenal in his time as Nick Marshall’s backup, and undoubtedly he has more arm talent than Nick Marshall has. He threw for 436 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions last season. There are only two caveats for Johnson that I can think of heading into 2015: how will defenses’ relative lack of respect for his ability to run (compared to Marshall) affect the running game as a whole? and beware the John Brantley/Matt Flynn Effect.
Even with the loss of Rimington Trophy winner Reese Dismukes, this line should be good again. Avery Young and Shon Coleman are a solid pair of tackles with 38 combined career starts. Alex Kozan missed all of 2014 with a back injury, but was a Sporting News Freshman All-American in 2013 and is healthy and ready to go for this season. He will be starting at left guard. Sophomores Braden Smith and Austin Golson are currently expected to round out the starting line according to al.com. Golson, an Ole Miss transfer, would start at center, with Smith playing right guard.
Duke Williams is another big source of optimism for this defense, and the first time in Tigers history, at least in my lifetime, that a big name receiver will outshine a big name running back in the preseason. Also, don’t sweat Auburn fans. These “disciplinary issues” will be resolved by September 5th, I promise you. Ricardo Louis, receiver of the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare”, Marcus Davis and Melvin Ray will be the primary receiving options behind Williams.
For the first time in my recollection of Auburn, the running back position may actually be the weakest point of the offense. If nothing else, it is the least certain position. Of course, with Auburn’s track record with running backs, I’d expect nothing less than 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns from newcomer Jovon Robinson. Roc Thomas should also fill Corey Grant’s place as the speed/sweep guy, and make contributions in the return game. Thomas made a few “freshman mistakes” on the field last season, but he should have learned from those last season and over the course of the offseason.
Carl Lawson and Byron Cowart will need to be as good as advertised this season, because there is not much depth on the front line. Lawson had four sacks as a freshman in 2013, but a torn ACL cost him all of last season. Cowart, on the other hand, will be a true freshman this season looking to live up to his billing as the number one recruit in the country, according to Rivals. Montravius Adams, Gimel President and DaVonte Lambert will be called on to help these two out, and are also the only three returning members of this line to record a tackle for the Tigers in 2014.
As opposed to the line, the linebacking crew is pretty deep in terms of experience, losing only one player who saw playing time last season. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost lead the way, both of whom had over seventy tackles last season. They both also hit double-digit tackles for loss and forced a combined four fumbles. JaViere Mitchell or safety convert Josh Holsey are the most likely candidates to join Frost and McKinzy in the starting lineup.
Transfers “Trigga” Tray Matthews and Blake Countess ought to help an Auburn secondary that desperately needed it last season. Many fans will remember Matthews for being one of the boneheads who helped tip the aforementioned “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” pass to Ricardo Louis in 2013. Countess, a Michigan transfer, had twenty tackles and three pass break-ups in his final season in the Maize and Blue.
Two returning starters, Johnathan Ford and Jonathan Jones, will join Matthews and Countess in their attempt at drastic improvement this season. Ford and Jones were hardly the primary culprits behind Auburn’s pass defense woes last season. Ford recorded 77.5 tackles and three picks, while Jones intercepted six passes and broke up twelve more.
Prediction: 10-2 Potential New Year’s Six Appearance
Depending on what kind of fan you are, a season that ends with this record and bowl game could be a disappointment or a success. I know if it were my team, then I would consider it a success. However, for the many who think this is a championship caliber team, this would obviously fall short of expectations. Auburn certainly has the talent to compete at the highest level, but a brutal schedule makes even a division title difficult to predict. Auburn hosts Ole Miss, Alabama, and Georgia; three games that are losable even in the friendly confines of “The Plains”. Then, road trips to Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas all offer potential tripping points. Three of those six teams beat Auburn last season, and this season I expect that number to decrease by one, and ultimately I expect the Iron Bowl Winner to punch a ticket to either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl.