For a team that has brought in as much talent as the Auburn Tigers, it feels disappointing that Gus Malzahn’s team is only 45-22 on his watch. The Tigers are coming off of just their second double-digit winning season, but they also lost four games and fell to both Georgia and UCF to end the season after an Iron Bowl upset that could have kept Alabama out of the College Football Playoff. Auburn returns 13 starters from last year’s team, as Malzahn and the coaching staff attempt to push forward with more consistency than we’ve seen in previous seasons.
We think of Auburn as a dynamic, free-wheeling offense with tons of explosive plays and playmakers. While that’s true to an extent, it has been the gains on the defensive side under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele that have elevated this team once again. Seven of those 13 starters come on the side of the ball trying to prevent the opposition from scoring. With a second-year offensive coordinator, Auburn may be ready to take that big leap.
Auburn checks in at +2000 at DSI to win the National Championship, with BetOnline at +2500 and 5Dimes at +3000, so be sure to shop around for the best odds. Auburn is around +800 to win the SEC, with a season win total at BetOnline of 8.5 (-160/140) and 9 (-115/-105) at 5Dimes. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|9/1||Washington (N – Atlanta)||+1||.49|
|10/6||@ Mississippi State||-1||.51|
Expected Wins: 9.00
Some smart people were considering Jarrett Stidham as a Heisman Trophy candidate last season, but the question was always how much he would be allowed to throw the football. As it turns out, he had a fine season, but Auburn ran the ball 642 times against 382 pass attempts. Stidham only had 153 yards on the ground, but he did throw for 3,158 yards with an 18/6 TD/INT ratio. He returns all of his weapons in the passing game. Ryan Davis wasn’t a big-play threat by any means, with just 9.7 yards per reception, but he caught 84 balls. Nobody else caught more than 29, but Darius Slayton and Will Hastings each had over 20 yards per catch. All three are back, along with former #1 WR recruit Nate Craig-Myers. Craig-Myers could play a bigger role this season because Hastings suffered a torn ACL in the spring and will not start the season with the Tigers.
Auburn has to find a running back from its stable of horses in the barn. Kerryon Johnson battled a lot of injuries in his Auburn tenure, but he had 1,391 yards and 18 rushing scores last season. Kam Martin looks to be the most likely guy to receive carries, as he had 74 last season and over six yards per carry. True freshman Asa Martin was a top RB recruit and redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow could be the short-yardage back as the biggest of the group. Auburn only returns one starting offensive lineman from a group that did struggle last season. The Tigers allowed 36 sacks, the most since 2012, which was the last year of the Gene Chizik era. Their 4.8 yards per carry were down from 5.5 the previous season. Second-year OC Chip Lindsey should have a better feel for the personnel, so maybe improvements are coming.
Kevin Steele has done a phenomenal job with this Auburn defense. A lot of people like to scoff at the jobs that defensive coordinators do at programs with elite talent, but maximizing elite talent is not easy. There are a lot of players that simply dominated in high school because they were bigger or faster. Getting them to buy in and give max effort at the next level is a challenge. Auburn allowed 26 points per game in 2015 before Steele arrived. They’ve held opponents to 17.1 and 18.5 points per game over his two seasons. The PPG went up last season, but Auburn’s yards per play allowed fell to 4.7, easily the best they’ve seen in years and they did it while replacing the entire defensive line.
This season, Steele has the luxury of seven returning starters. The Tigers do lose a terrific pass rusher in Jeff Holland, but return three of the top four tacklers, including defensive leader Deshaun Davis, and have nine of their top 10 defensive linemen back. The secondary is the area of focus for Steele. Carlton Davis was s second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and both starters at safety moved on. Auburn will get thrown into the fire right away against a potent and balanced Washington offense, but then things will settle down for a while, giving Steele time to get everything figured out.
Auburn has that huge non-conference opener and kudos to the SEC teams that do schedule some elite non-conference foes. They’re not resting on their laurels because of the strength of the conference anymore. Auburn’s four toughest conference games are all on the road, with trips to Starkvegas, The Grove, Athens, and Tuscaloosa. They will draw LSU at home and a Texas A&M team that is very high-variance under new head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Pick: Under 9 (-105, 5Dimes)
As luck would have it, our expected wins total lands exactly on the number from 5Dimes. That would seem to be a good indication that this win total is a no play all around, but a pick is required in all 130 of these, so we’ll slant to the under. Auburn plays five really hard games away from Jordan-Hare Stadium and could very well slip up in all five. The Washington game is a big one for Auburn backers because it will limit the margin for error in conference play with a loss. Alabama has revenge at the end of the season and Mississippi State has been blown away in each of the last two meetings. Auburn is a top-10 team in the power ratings, but this schedule is too much to expect 10 wins.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Auburn Tigers went from 3-9 in 2012 to 12-2 in 2013. It was one of the most dramatic single-season turnarounds in college football history and resulted in a spot in the BCS Championship Game. The Tigers lost 34-31 to Florida State and have been trying to get back to that point ever since. While three straight winning records and bowl appearances in the toughest conference in the country is nothing to scoff at, Auburn is just 23-16 since that Cinderella season under head coach Gus Malzahn.
It feels like the Tigers finally have the quarterback that they need to be successful. Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, John Franklin III, and the cast of others that have come through have simply not been good enough to get the Auburn offense fully on track. With Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham ready to go, it could be a big year for the Tigers, especially if the defense can hold up its end of the bargain like it did last season. After three years of falling short of expectations, the Tigers may fly by them in 2017.
It certainly looks like oddsmakers and bettors are in agreement with the Tigers for this season. Over at 5Dimes Sportsbook, the Tigers have a season win total of 8.5 with the over at -135 and the under at +115. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|11/4||@ Texas A&M||-2.5||0.54|
Total Expected Wins: 8.56
We know that the running game at Auburn will be potent. In Gus Malzahn’s four years running the Tigers program, the running game has posted 5.5, 4.3, 5.5, and 6.3 yards per carry. Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson both battled some injury issues last season and still combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. They’re both back this season and the Tigers return two senior starting tackles, which is huge in terms of setting the edge, and also return a senior center.
Opposing defenses have to be thoroughly concerned with facing Auburn this year. Last season, the Tigers managed less than 170 passing yards per game. This season, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham comes in as a terrific passer and a capable runner. Stidham had to sit out last season after transferring from Baylor after the mass exodus of talent from that program. This is a spectacular fit and he’ll have plenty of fast, athletic weapons at his disposal. Many are looking at Stidham as a reasonable Heisman Trophy futures bet because he has a chance to put up some serious numbers in this offense. The Tigers did lose offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, but picked up Chip Lindsey, who has run potent offenses at Arizona State and Southern Miss. One interesting wrinkle here is that Lindsey likes to throw the football a bit more than past OCs and a bit more than Malzahn, so Auburn may have much more balance than usual.
Second-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was obviously a great hire. During his first year, the former LSU DC and Alabama assistant got the best defensive season out of Auburn in a very long time. The Tigers only allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. They allowed just 5.1 yards per play. The top three tacklers are back in the mix. As with any SEC program, there were some significant losses, as Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Johnathan Ford, and Joshua Holsey all got selected in the NFL Draft, but highly-touted recruits are always waiting in the wings.
Top cover corner Carlton Davis is back in the mix. Auburn runs deep with their rotations, as evidenced by the fact that leading tackler Tray Matthews only had 76 stops. A lot of guys get playing time because of the tempo with which the offense likes to run. That should set Auburn up well in the second year of Steele’s defense. Auburn won’t disrupt as many plays this season, especially passing plays, with Lawson and Adams gone. They combined for 39 quarterback hits and 13.5 of Auburn’s 25 sacks. A couple of Steele-led recruiting classes with his connections and SEC ties should more than fill the void over time.
The Tigers should be a top-15 team on special teams this season. Experienced kicker Daniel Carlson is one of the best in the country and Auburn has speed to burn in the return game. The schedule is pretty brutal, with Clemson and LSU on the road and Georgia in the SEC crossover games. The overall strength of schedule is brought down by games against Georgia Southern, Mercer, and Louisiana-Monroe, but Auburn will go over a month without a home game from October 7 to November 11 with a bye mixed in.
Win Total Pick: Over 8.5
My numbers have this one almost spot on and the -130 actually makes the line closer to 9 than 8.5. Even still, Jarrett Stidham is a big upgrade for this offense and it helps to have an OC like Chip Lindsey that will let Stidham do his thing while still involving both running backs. The defense took massive strides and should be able to replicate something close to last season’s performance with an offensive upgrade. The line doesn’t provide a lot of margin for error with the LSU, Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama games, but Auburn has the talent to win any or all of those.