Last year wasn’t the best in Auburn’s history as they finished up with an 8-5 record – although the Music City Bowl victory helped provide a welcome silver lining – and they’ll need to improve this season otherwise Gus Malzahn might find himself out of a job. It won’t be a straightforward matter either but if the stars align the Tigers could be in for one hell of a season.
It’s fair to say the fixture list could have been kinder to the Tigers but they’ll still be hopeful of roaring into a good start when they welcome Tulane to the Jordan-Hare Stadium in the first game of the conference campaign. Before another home tie with Kent State, which are both matches that Auburn should be looking to win.
After what will, hopefully, be two victories on the spin the team travel to Texas A & M for a match that will likely provide a much sterner test for Malzahn’s men. Auburn have turned in decent performances in Texas over the years and they’ll need to do that again to take anything off one of the stronger sides in the division.
September draws to a close when Mississippi State come to Jordan-Hare and the Tigers will be desperate to put another win on the board before October throws up the toughest run of the calendar with three away fixtures; Florida and Arkansas are matches that could go either way, albeit Arkansas will be big underdogs, and the final game of that mini road-trip will see the Tigers travel to face LSU, which, in all honesty, is a fixture that would require a performance of epic proportions to bag a win.
The good news is that if Auburn come through that trio of games relatively unscathed then they close the season with four home games and, if confidence in tact, there is no reason why they can’t win all four to propel themselves into the play-off race; although the last fixture, the Iron Bowl against Alabama, will be a tricky match to navigate with many backing the Crimson Tide to go undefeated but Ole Miss, Georgia and Samford are all winnable games with home advantage.
Everyone knows that the Tigers have a defence capable of winning any game but the big question mark hanging over the side is who will be the quarterback heading into the new campaign?
There are a few options but looks like a two-horse race between Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood – both of whom are extremely inexperienced at this level. Nix is a product of Pinson Valley High School where he recorded over 12,000 yards and a whopping 161 touchdowns, as well as scooping numerous awards for his all-round displays.
Of course, if he gets the nod, he’ll have big shoes to fill given he’s the son of Patrick Nix, a star of Auburn’s former glory, who was the quarterback during the Tigers unblemished 1993 season. The alternative option is Gatewood, who was knocking around last season but only made a solitary appearance.
Gatewood is a beast at 6 foot 5, weighing over 230lbs and his ability to harm opponents with his throwing arm or his running power has seen him likened to legendary Tiger Cam Newton. There were a few question marks over Gatewood’s mentality last year, but he’s come back with a newfound confidence and, if the season kicked off tomorrow, it’s probably Gatewood who would get the nod. He’ll certainly be kept on his toes by Nix though – a win, win for Auburn.
Many people will tell you it’s too early for NFL draft predictions and they might be right but for Auburn there is a standout candidate to make it as the first-round pick; step forward defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
Brown came through the ranks at Lanier High School where he won the Anthony Munoz Award, which is given to the best lineman in High School football. His performances saw him courted by Georgia and Alabama, but he committed to Auburn and has appeared consistently throughout his time with the Tigers posting strong numbers throughout with 115 tackles and 9.0 sacks to his name.
It was rumoured that Brown was high up on the wish list in the draft just gone but he opted for a final year at Auburn; if he maintains his levels throughout the coming campaign then he’s a shoo-in be out early in the 2020 draft and be a future top pick in NFL wagering.
There you have it, three factors to keep your eyes on throughout the campaign. The schedule is what it is and Malzahn will need to find a way to get the wins he needs to keep his job, but the season could hold much more than just that. If the season starts well momentum could build and, providing a wobble is avoiding during the three game away stint, the Tigers could push Alabama all the way – of course, if the momentum never gets started, it could be a long and painful year.