Coming off a season in which no one initially gave them a chance, the Auburn Tigers are poised and ready to prove that 2013 was no fluke. Although the Tigers didn’t win the national title but were just mere runner ups, they return a lot of key pieces and an appearance in the first annual College Football Playoff seems highly possible.
Second-year head coach Bret Bielema took the job with the Arkansas Razorbacks last year for the sole purpose of building the program back up and being part of the best college football conference out there. After one season, Bielema is 3-9 with the program, hoping to build off anything good that came from last season.
As the No. 1 rushing team in the nation last season behind dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall and Heisman finalist Tre Mason, the Tigers became the first SEC team to ever lead college football in rushing yards. While they averaged over 325 rushing yards per contest, Marshall and the Tigers ranked just 106th when it came to passing yards, accounting for just over 170 per game. According to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, however, Marshall has been improving his passing game this offseason and has been making great strides as a well-rounded QB. He won’t have a shortage of wide receiver talent as Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis return to lead a talented wide out corps. With Mason gone at running back, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will lead the way.
Losing the final nine games of the 2013 season after a 3-0 start had a lot to do with the offense’s inability to put up points and keep up with the rest of the SEC. Bielema is excited to have junior quarterback Brandon Allen back after injuring his shoulder last season, forcing him to play cautious and not to the level that he is used to. All-SEC tight end Hunter Henry returns to give Allen some extra help in the passing game while a lot is riding on true freshman Jared Cornelius to be a star in this offense. While the passing game may be a work in progress, the run game ranked 21st in the nation last year and will be even better with SEC Freshman of the Year Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams returning.
Defensively, the Razorbacks were one of the lower-tiered units in the conference in 2013. Arkansas ranked 88th in the nation in scoring defense as well as 76th in the nation in total yards allowed per contest. Auburn’s defense wasn’t much better than the Razorbacks’ as it ranked 48th in scoring defense but just a lowly 86th in total yards allowed per game. Much will need to be improved behind the six returning starters.
Arkansas will travel to Auburn to take on the Tigers at 4 p.m. EST on Saturday, Aug. 30. The game will be broadcasted on SEC Network.
PREDICTION: Arkansas 21, Auburn 34
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.