Auburn may have been the SEC West Champions this year, but Alabama won the National Championship. The 2018 season is still months away, but the Tide are currently favored to win the SEC West this year with Auburn right behind them; the same was said last year as well. With a large crop of talent once again gone from the Tide’s roster, it is probably safe to say that they have already reloaded and are set for next year (the true freshmen helped secure the national championship game against Georgia this past season). However, Auburn returns a lot of talent and players with meaningful snaps played. Can Auburn repeat as SEC West Champs? If they do, there are three things to point to for their success.
Success starts and ends with the quarterback. Jarrett Stidham might be the best quarterback in college football this year and he will be called upon to lead this team that is going to be without last year’s SEC Player of the Year, Kerryon Johnson. After his first full year of being a starter under his belt, he will be asked to do more as the Tigers figure out their running back situation. Luckily, the entire receiving core returns with the exception of Eli Stove and Will Hastings due to injuries (although they have not been ruled out to possibly return sometime in the season). A year of experience plus the chemistry with his receivers, Stidham may stand atop of the Auburn record books for most passing yards in a season when it is all said and done.
No one seemed to be able to stop the Tigers offense at one point in time during the season last year. That, in large part, was due to the implementation of Chip Lindsey’s offense. Gus Malzahn’s offense is ran at its best when there is a very athletic and mobile quarterback at the helm. Imagine Peyton Manning trying to run a read option-based offense. Pretty terrible right? Well Stidham isn’t as immobile as Manning, but he’s no Nick Marshall by any means. Chip Lindsey’s offense brought life to what seems to be an outdated Malzahn offense. To make up for Stidham’s lack of agility was covered with small wrinkles such as Eli Stove motioning across for a sweep and passing it to him after Stidham would read the body language of the defensive end. As their momentum would build, so would their offense. The play that they may have ran in week seven would be completely altered by week ten, making it hard for other teams to figure them out on film.
They say defense wins championships and Auburn has built a very solid one over the last two years under Kevin Steele. With year three on the horizon, the Tigers defense is not expected to take a step back. The defensive line is considered by many to be the second best in the nation this year only behind Clemson’s. There was only one senior linebacker on the team this past year and plenty of experience and his injuries allowed his back up to play often. Questions remain in the secondary as the team must replace its starting safeties and star cornerback, but the coaches are confident in their previous backups. This unit will be hungry to prove that they are one of the best in the nation once again, and the pressure is on as Marlon Davidson has stated that he feels that his guys will be the top defense this year.
We won’t truly know who will win the SEC race likely until the last second of the Iron Bowl ticks away, but it should be a heated race. Alabama has been leaps and bounds ahead of everybody for years now, but Auburn is hot on their trail; and so is Georgia. The margin of error is slim for the Tigers as always, as they will have to face both Georgia and Alabama on the road this year. If they can shock the world again by beating them connivingly, there might be a new top dog in the West (or Tiger).