The Auburn Tigers were not even on the radar this time last season, but by January they were SEC champions and in the national title game. As 2014 approaches, Gus Malzahn and his Tigers are gearing up for another run at a conference title and the new College Football Playoff.
The Tigers made nothing short of a magical run to Pasadena, finishing the season with two miracles that will be talked about for years to come on the way to an 11-1 record in the regular season. This season, they need to find new ways to get it done, as moments like the had in 2013 only come around once in a lifetime.
2014 won’t be an easy road, as the Tigers still compete in the difficult SEC West and are replacing quite a few stars on both sides of the ball from last year’s team. If they can find the right guys to plug into those holes, it could be another tremendous year down on The Plains.
Malzahn’s offense has lost a few big names, but the one that matters most is still on the roster. Quarterback Nick Marshall returns after an impressive first season under center for the Tigers. He brings experience, playmaking ability and poise to the most important position on the field.
Where the Tigers have question marks are at left tackle and running back where they must replace Greg Robinson and Tre Mason, who were only two of the best at their positions in the country. Their presence on the field will be missed without a doubt, but all hope is not lost.
Marshall can still run the football, and guys like Cameron Artis-Payne along with Corey Grant played well behind Mason a year ago. They have enough experience in the offense and have shown enough ability to give Tiger fans optimism.
Robinson’s hole will not be easy to plug. It’s difficult to replace a top five NFL tackle in one season, but the Tigers won’t be running out some hack to replace him. Redshirt sophomore and former four-star prospect Shon Coleman takes over on the left side.
Plus, there’s still strength up the middle where potential Rimington Award finalist Reese Dismuke and senior guard Chad Slade will be anchors for the line. With playmakers on the outside like Sammie Coates, the Tigers are stocked for another great offensive year.
Gone are the heroes of last season like Dee Ford and Chris Davis. There will be some new faces stepping up on defense, and Ellis Johnson will need to find some playmakers to impact the game. A guy like Ford won’t be easy to replace, but the Tigers have recruited well on the defensive side of the ball.
Gabe Wright will likely be tabbed as the leader up front, and Montravius Adams who was a five-star prospect will get a chance to make an impact. If Adams lives up to his potential and becomes who was supposed to be early on, this Tigers defense could be really good.
There is experience all over the depth chart on defense, where every projected starter is a junior or senior. That will be a strength of this unit, especially in the secondary where senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy will be a player to be reckoned with in 2014.
All-in-all the defense looks like it will be ready to compete and make life difficult for opposing offenses. If the combination of experience and unproven talent meshes well, the defense could be the strength of the 2014 Tigers.
The fact that Auburn plays in the SEC West means they already have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. Most division games will be a challenge, and the Tigers draw both the Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks from the East. There will be few weeks off during the 2014 season.
The good news is they draw the Gamecocks, LSU Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies at Jordan-Hare. Their most difficult tests will be on the road at Georgia and the hated Alabama Crimson Tide. They also go on the road against the Ole Miss Rebels, which could be a potential upset game they will need to be ready for.
At the end of the season, it looks like it will be a 10-win year for the Tigers, and they should be in the thick of the SEC and national playoff races. If things break their way, another championship is a real possibility in 2014.