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The big 2014 Auburn football guide: Unpredictable Tigers face brutal schedule

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In 2013, Auburn got better, then got lucky. What happens to an experienced Tigers team after the greatest run of good fortune since the 1990 Colorado Buffaloes? What magic does Gus Malzahn have prepared for one of the country's most brutal schedules?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Yes, lucky

When statisticians talk about "luck," we’re referring specifically to an occurrence that has a tiny probability of happening again. Sometimes, we can prove luck by examining the correlations; other times, we need only to watch something unfold to know intuitively that it’s a lucky outcome.

The Power Rank's Ed Feng, writing for Grantland, happily strolled into a hornet's nest last week when he said Auburn was lucky in 2013. If you have a general knowledge of college football, SEC country, and the Internet, you can probably imagine what some of the responses to that were like. And because of my own general knowledge of these things, I know that the following carefrontation probably isn't going to connect. But I have to try.

You've got to be able to say this, Auburn fans: We were lucky as hell last year.

I know Aaron Murray might not have scored on Georgia's go-ahead touchdown that preceded the miraculous deflected bomb to Ricardo Louis. I know there were probably calls earlier in the Georgia game that you disagreed with. I know Georgia was rather lucky to be ahead because your team had to settle for an uncharacteristic number of field goals (four of them). And hey, Georgia had recovered two of the game's three fumbles; there's some luck there, too.

And I know Gus Malzahn coached circles around Nick Saban two weeks later in the Iron Bowl. And I know Alabama was lucky to get one second put back on the clock at the end of the regulation, which allowed for Chris Davis to field a short 57-yard field goal and become the first college football player in the sport's history to end a game by returning a missed field goal for a touchdown. And I know the game was tied (thanks to three missed Alabama field goals), and Auburn could have won in overtime anyway. And I know Auburn had the return blocked immaculately well.

I know.

But y'all were lucky as hell last year. You just were. And denying it takes away from what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime series of November moments in college football.

Auburn's final four games of the year were as follows: miracle finish, miracle finish, fun-as-hell shootout, last-minute loss that almost had another miracle finish*. It was one of the most enjoyable, entertaining runs in the sport's enjoyable, entertaining history. I mean, Auburn played in the three best games of the year in a season that had too many amazing games to count. That's incredible.

Florida State may have finished the season on top of college football, but Auburn defined the season and did a delicious job of it.

To take advantage of massive luck still requires quality, and Auburn was still very, very good. You had to be an excellent team to be tied with Alabama in the final second of regulation, to eventually pull away from Missouri and win by 17, and to have an outstanding Florida State squad down in the final minute of the final BCS Championship. Auburn's 2013 season was one of drastic improvement, fortitude, fun football ... and massive, miraculous, never-gonna-happen-again luck. It was all of those spectacular things at once.

* The design for Auburn's final lateral-fest, which set Tre Mason up with a wall of blockers, albeit blockers who were not quite fresh/fast enough to do their job, was perhaps the clearest "Holy crap, Gus Malzahn's a genius" moment of the season for me. Yes, it failed, but the design itself gave it a greater chance of succeeding than any play should with three seconds and 90 yards to go.

2. Defying all odds, good and bad

This ... this isn't supposed to happen.

If you squint, you can almost see a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

College football is so often staid, with the good teams remaining good and bad teams remaining bad. Changes in fortune happen each year, but they're not supposed to happen every year to one team.

Auburn's five-year F/+ average ranks 24th in FBS, but in the last five seasons, the Tigers have only once been within even 15 spots of 24th. They ranked 39th in 2009, third in 2010, 65th in 2011, 105th in 2012, and fourth in 2013. That's an average shift of 60 spots, one direction or the other, each year.

With what Auburn returns -- on the field and in the head coach's visor -- let's just say that another 60-spot shift would be the most surprising move yet. But if any team can pull that off, it would be the Tigers of the Plains. Just when we think we have a read on what they might do, they go out of their way to make us feel silly.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 4
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Washington State 53 31-24 W 29.3 - 28.0 W
7-Sep Arkansas State 90 38-9 W 36.9 - 26.0 W
14-Sep Mississippi State 33 24-20 W 36.2 - 27.4 W
21-Sep at LSU 17 21-35 L 32.3 - 25.1 W
5-Oct Ole Miss 28 30-22 W 30.4 - 19.6 W 7.8
12-Oct Western Carolina N/A 62-3 W 47.7 - 16.5 W 13.8
19-Oct at Texas A&M 23 45-41 W 34.6 - 28.0 W 12.9
26-Oct Florida Atlantic 73 45-10 W 58.7 - 21.5 W 18.6
2-Nov at Arkansas 87 35-17 W 32.2 - 24.8 W 18.6
9-Nov at Tennessee 72 55-23 W 49.2 - 27.7 W 20.7
16-Nov Georgia 22 43-38 W 43.1 - 33.8 W 16.4
30-Nov Alabama 2 34-28 W 45.0 - 30.2 W 18.0
7-Dec vs. Missouri 14 59-42 W 48.8 - 29.3 W 14.5
6-Jan vs. Florida State 1 31-34 L 45.6 - 16.7 W 18.8
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +19.5% 7 +12.3% 18 +3.3% 7
Points Per Game 39.5 12 24.7 49
Adj. Points Per Game 40.7 6 25.3 40

3. The proverbial light bulb

It's safe to say that Gus Malzahn isn't capable of fielding a bad offense. We can talk about the drastic offensive improvement Auburn made between September and November last season, but the baseline was still pretty high. Only once in the first five games did the Tigers average fewer than 5.8 yards per play.

But as Malzahn and his personnel -- some recruited for Malzahn's offense (either when he became head coach in 2013 or when he served as offensive coordinator in 2009-11) and some not -- began to click and understand one another, Auburn became very good, very quickly. In Games 6-9 (yes, against a shaky set of defenses), the Tigers averaged 47 points per game, 580 yards per game, and 8.2 yards per play. And then they got better.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Auburn 33.0, Opponent 25.2 (plus-7.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Auburn 43.3, Opponent 22.7 (plus-20.6)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Auburn 46.3, Opponent 27.5 (plus-18.8)

Basically, Auburn became Baylor right around the time Baylor stopped being Baylor. As the Bears began to lose star players to injuries and look mortal, Auburn's offense went into hyperdrive.

  • Tennessee had allowed four consecutive strong SEC offenses (Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri) to score 33 points per game and gain 6.4 yards per play; Auburn scored 55 and averaged 8.0.
  • Georgia hadn't allowed greater than 5.6 yards per play since the second game of the season; Auburn averaged 6.7.
  • Alabama had allowed 34 points in the previous five games combined; Auburn scored 34 itself.
  • Missouri had allowed a total of 613 rushing yards to its previous five opponents; the Tigers allowed 545 to Auburn.

It was ridiculous. Yes, there was luck involved in Auburn overcoming a loss to LSU to finish 11-1 and reach the SEC title game. But the offense went to a special place, and the defense was at least good enough to get out of the way most of the time. And they kept getting better, even after the Iron Bowl.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 22 IsoPPP+ 112.0 16
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.8% 9 Succ. Rt. + 122.8 5
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 26.6 10 Def. FP+ 106.5 8
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 3 Redzone S&P+ 126.1 6
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.8 ACTUAL 19 -3.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 11 7 5 4
RUSHING 1 2 2 1
PASSING 108 16 57 88
Standard Downs 7 5 28
Passing Downs 9 28 2
Q1 Rk 6 1st Down Rk 5
Q2 Rk 2 2nd Down Rk 7
Q3 Rk 12 3rd Down Rk 4
Q4 Rk 6

4. Whose running game will be better than Auburn's?

Every time Tre Mason touched the ball in 2013, he was picking rocks from the dam. Each time he scraped away, the dam got closer to breaking, and as a half wore on, this extreme efficiency back turned into one capable of bigger and bigger plays. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the first quarter, then 7.5 in the second. He averaged 4.8 in the third, then 5.5 in the fourth. He was a dam buster, and he was a Heisman finalist because of it.

On a per-carry basis, though, his backups, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, were even better. While Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry, these two averaged 8.0; Mason averaged a touchdown every 13.8 carries; Artis-Payne and Grant scored one every 13.1. They were even deadlier in the open field, and they got there with higher frequency.

There's nothing saying these two (or blue-chip freshman Roc Thomas, or redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, or whoever is carrying the ball on a consistent basis) will be as astonishingly consistent as Mason; there's nothing saying this new batch will do as well on a down-for-down basis. But when you look at last season's numbers, and you look at the pedigree (statistics or recruiting) of this year's corps of backs, it's somehow hard to make yourself think Auburn will miss Mason all that much.

You know, Tre Mason, the guy who rushed for 663 yards in the last three games of the year, against defenses that ranked third, 27th, and fourth, respectively, in Rushing S&P+. They might not miss him. And with four healthy linemen returning with starting experience (99 career starts minus those of injured Alex Kozan), you could make the case that the loss of dominant left tackle Greg Robinson can be overcome as well. That's how deep and experienced this offense is.

Assuming quarterback Nick Marshall stays out of trouble from here on out (he won't start the Arkansas game because of a marijuana citation), and assuming opponents don't suddenly find a magic bullet, this run game should be devastating. And with a tempo notorious enough to have its own billboard, there's reason to believe that Auburn's 2014 offense will be a lot more like that of November 2013 than September (or even October).

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Nick Marshall 6'1, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 142 239 1976 14 6 59.4% 19 7.4% 7.2
Jeremy Johnson 6'5, 230 So. 4 stars (5.9) 29 41 422 6 2 70.7% 0 0.0% 10.3
Jonathan Wallace 6'2, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 2 4 24 0 0 50.0% 0 0.0% 6.0
Sean White 6'0, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Tre Mason RB 317 1816 23 5.7 4.3 44.2%
Nick Marshall QB 6'1, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 153 1193 12 7.8 6.6 56.2%
Cameron Artis-Payne RB 5'11, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 91 610 6 6.7 6.2 46.2%
Corey Grant RB 5'11, 205 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 66 647 6 9.8 9.4 57.6%
Ricardo Louis WR 6'2, 212 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 19 198 0 10.4 11.0 57.9%
Chandler Shakespeare RB 12 69 0 5.8 5.5 41.7%
Kiehl Frazier DB 10 34 0 3.4 3.1 20.0%
Jonathan Wallace QB 6'2, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 9 49 0 5.4 3.3 66.7%
Jeremy Johnson QB 6'5, 230 So. 4 stars (5.9) 7 47 0 6.7 4.8 57.1%
Johnathan Ford DB 6'0, 199 So. 4 stars (5.8) 6 73 1 12.2 18.8 50.0%
Peyton Barber RB 5'11, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Roc Thomas RB 5'10, 193 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Sammie Coates WR 6'2, 201 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 80 42 902 52.5% 29.3% 47.3% 11.3 335 10.8 138.4
Ricardo Louis WR 6'2, 212 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 44 28 325 63.6% 16.1% 63.9% 7.4 -16 9.1 49.9
Marcus Davis WR 5'9, 180 So. 3 stars (5.7) 33 23 217 69.7% 12.1% 39.3% 6.6 -51 6.2 33.3
Quan Bray WR 5'10, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 30 23 205 76.7% 11.0% 66.7% 6.8 -51 8.8 31.5
C.J. Uzomah TE 6'5, 264 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 19 11 172 57.9% 7.0% 37.5% 9.1 31 9.1 26.4
Tre Mason RB 13 12 133 92.3% 4.8% 27.3% 10.2 10 11.2 20.4
Trovon Reed WR 10 9 98 90.0% 3.7% 75.0% 9.8 5 9.8 15.0
Jay Prosch FB 9 5 95 55.6% 3.3% 66.7% 10.6 30 10.7 14.6
Melvin Ray WR 6'3, 207 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 9 5 108 55.6% 3.3% 33.3% 12.0 43 16.6 16.6
Tony Stevens WR 6'4, 198 So. 4 stars (5.9) 8 5 68 62.5% 2.9% 33.3% 8.5 7 7.6 10.4
Jaylon Denson WR 6'3, 218 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 7 3 45 42.9% 2.6% 57.1% 6.4 -1 6.4 6.9
Corey Grant RB 5'11, 205 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 5 4 8 80.0% 1.8% 60.0% 1.6 -36 1.4 1.2
Brandon Fulse TE 6'4, 258 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 4 1 5 25.0% 1.5% 0.0% 1.3 -17 2.2 0.8
Cameron Artis-Payne RB 5'11, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 1 1 4 100.0% 0.4% 0.0% 4.0 -6 1.8 0.6
Gage Batten FB 6'0, 242 So. NR
D'haquille Williams WR 6'2, 216 Jr. 5 stars (6.1)
Stanton Truitt WR 5'9, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)








5. The passing game could still improve

Nick Marshall got better. Through seven games, the one-time Georgia defensive back had completed only 57 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, four interceptions, and three games with a passer rating under 111.0. He was asked to throw a total of only 16 passes against FAU, Arkansas, and Tennessee, and while the running game was good enough for Auburn to win those games by an average of 28 points, he was still a complete mystery down the stretch.

But he threw for 229 yards against Georgia (granted, 73 came on a miracle completion), produced a passer rating of 160.9 against Alabama and 212.6 against Missouri, and threw for 217 yards against Florida State in the national title game. The offense and the threat of the run game helped to give him easy throws, but he seemed to improve as a true passer, as well.

That will need to continue. It's hard to poke holes in the Auburn offense, but the Tigers were reliant on big plays instead of efficiency on passing downs. When they had to pass, they were only good at it, not great. To have a great offense overall, passing must hit a baseline that Auburn only sometimes hit.

Yes, this is nitpicking. This offense will be too good for most defenses as is. But Marshall still has room to grow; returning last year's top five targets (including big-play No. 1 target Sammie Coates) won't hurt.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 131 3.84 3.8 48.4% 84.5% 12.1% 75.2 6.8% 7.8%
Rank 2 2 18 6 3 3 102 107 78
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Reese Dismukes C 6'3, 295 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 37 1st All-SEC
Greg Robinson LT 25 1st All-SEC
Chad Slade RG 6'5, 315 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 36
Alex Kozan LG 6'4, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 14
Patrick Miller LT 6'7, 289 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 14
Avery Young RT 6'6, 315 So. 4 stars (5.9) 12
Tunde Fariyike C 2
Devonte Danzey LG 6'4, 296 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Shon Coleman LT 6'6, 310 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0
Jordan Diamond RG 6'6, 318 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Will Adams RG 6'7, 296 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Deon Mix LG 6'4, 298 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Xavier Dampeer C 6'2, 296 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Braden Smith OL 6'6, 299 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.21 91 IsoPPP+ 102.4 50
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.3% 77 Succ. Rt. + 110.4 27
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.6 77 Off. FP+ 102.5 32
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 41 Redzone S&P+ 142.9 2
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.4 ACTUAL 19.0 -4.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 87 26 27 33
RUSHING 63 36 32 40
PASSING 102 19 21 41
Standard Downs 49 42 72
Passing Downs 3 4 24
Q1 Rk 35 1st Down Rk 66
Q2 Rk 24 2nd Down Rk 24
Q3 Rk 23 3rd Down Rk 3
Q4 Rk 45

6. ATTAAAACK

When Auburn leveraged you into passing downs, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson knew what to do. The Tigers were so good on passing downs -- third in Passing Downs S&P+, 13th in passing downs sack rate -- that it was easy to forget the other downs, the ones in which opponents were gashing Auburn with the run or using the threat of the run to keep the pass rush on its heels.

It was like Auburn had 10 players on the field on standard downs and 12 on passing downs.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 108.1 3.03 3.73 41.8% 70.5% 22.0% 111 2.6% 10.0%
Rank 34 76 105 94 86 27 39 112 13
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dee Ford DE 12 23.5 3.2% 14.5 10.5 0 1 2 0
Gabe Wright DT 6'3, 284 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 14 23.5 3.2% 8.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
LaDarius Owens DE 6'2, 259 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 14 21.0 2.9% 5.0 2.5 0 0 0 0
Nosa Eguae DT 13 18.0 2.5% 5.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Craig Sanders DE 10 17.5 2.4% 3.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Carl Lawson DE 6'2, 261 So. 5 stars (6.1) 11 17.0 2.3% 7.5 4.0 0 0 2 0
Montravius Adams DT 6'4, 306 So. 5 stars (6.1) 11 15.0 2.0% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Angelo Blackson DT 6'4, 306 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 11.0 1.5% 3.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Ben Bradley DT 6'1, 303 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 11 10.0 1.4% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Elijah Daniel DE 6'2, 263 So. 4 stars (5.9) 11 6.5 0.9% 3.0 2.5 0 0 0 0
Kenneth Carter DE 9 5.5 0.7% 3.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jeffrey Whitaker DT 6'4, 322 Sr. 4 stars (5.9)
Keymiya Harrell DE 6'4, 262 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
DaVonte Lambert DE 6'2, 293 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Devaroe Lawrence DT 6'2, 284 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Justin Thornton DE 6'5, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Andrew Williams DE 6'4, 251 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dontavius Russell DT 6'3, 285 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)








7. Better on standard downs, worse on passing downs?

Auburn returns a healthy seven defensive starters this fall, but the losses could be especially painful when it comes to said passing-downs defense. Ace pass rusher Dee Ford is gone, and his presumed replacement, blue-chip sophomore Carl Lawson, will miss most or all of the season with a knee injury. That leaves senior LaDarius Owens (2.5 sacks), sophomore Elijah Daniel (2.5), and a big load of newcomers to replicate last year's pass rush. Meanwhile, top corner (and Iron Bowl star) Chris Davis is also gone, along with safeties Ryan Smith and Ryan White.

It's not like all hope is lost here; corner Jonathon Mincy is still around, and Auburn signed three JUCO defensive linemen, two JUCO defensive backs, and four- and five-star freshmen at each level of the defense. But if Auburn's passing-downs strength is going to regress, that means the Tigers will have to compensate by improving their standard-downs weakness. That's not a given.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cassanova McKinzy WLB 6'3, 249 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 14 59.0 8.0% 8.0 2.0 1 1 0 0
Kris Frost MLB 6'2, 234 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 14 46.0 6.3% 6.0 0.0 0 1 2 0
Jake Holland MLB 13 30.5 4.2% 1.0 0.5 0 2 0 0
Anthony Swain WLB 6'2, 249 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 9 22.5 3.1% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
JaViere Mitchell LB 6'2, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7 10.5 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Garrett LB 6'1, 224 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 2 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kenny Flowers WLB 6'1, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 3 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Toney MLB 6'1, 243 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Tre' Williams LB 6'2, 225 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chris Davis CB 12 63.0 8.6% 2.5 0 0 14 1 0
Ryan Smith BS 13 56.0 7.6% 0.5 0 3 4 1 0
Jermaine Whitehead FS 5'11, 193 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 14 54.5 7.4% 2.5 0 2 6 0 1
Jonathon Mincy CB 5'10, 196 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 50.5 6.9% 1 0 1 14 0 0
Robenson Therezie STAR 5'9, 212 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 47.0 6.4% 3 0 4 1 0 0
Ryan White BS 14 45.0 6.1% 0 0 1 6 1 0
Joshua Holsey DB 5'11, 192 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 6 14.0 1.9% 0.5 0 1 1 0 0
Jonathan Jones CB 5'10, 182 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 5 11.0 1.5% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Trent Fisher FS 5 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon King DB 6'2, 213 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 4 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
T.J. Davis CB 6'1, 196 So. 3 stars (5.7) 3 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Johnathan Ford FS 6'0, 199 So. 4 stars (5.8) 6 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Mackenro Alexander STAR 5'11, 203 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 3.0 0.4% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Trovon Reed CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 4 stars (6.0)
Derrick Moncrief BS 6'2, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Joe Turner DB 6'0, 165 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Kalvaraz Bessent DB 5'11, 165 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Nick Ruffin DB 6'0, 174 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Stephen Roberts DB 5'11, 180 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

8. The power of recruiting

It takes an especially potent cocktail, two parts drastic coaching upgrade and one part tailor-made talent, to pull off the type of impossible turnaround. We drool over Malzahn and his staff, but they got a huge boost from inheriting a set of personnel that, per the recruiting rankings, had a chapel-high ceiling.

Ace recruiting could also help Auburn overcome this offseason's losses. The Tigers loaded up on defenders from both the high school and JUCO levels, and while not all of them will be ready to contribute in their first year, the depth lends optimism; of the three four-star freshman linemen, the three JUCO linemen, the five-star linebacker (Tre' Williams), the two JUCO defensive backs, and the three four-star defensive backs, the odds are good that at least two or three of them will be ready to make a difference. Add them, plus some blue-chip sophomores (tackle Montravius Adams, for instance) to the known quantities -- the Gabe Wrights and Cassanova McKinzys and Kris Frosts and Jermaine Whiteheads and Jonathon Mincys -- and you've got a defense that could improve even while the pass rush regresses.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Steven Clark 56 42.6 4 26 26 92.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cody Parkey 98 64.3 69 1 70.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cody Parkey 66-67 9-11 81.8% 6-10 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tre Mason KR 15 26.3 1
Quan Bray KR 5'10, 195 Sr. 14 23.6 0
Chris Davis PR 17 18.7 1
Quan Bray PR 5'10, 195 Sr. 12 5.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 7
Field Goal Efficiency 50
Punt Return Efficiency 14
Kick Return Efficiency 14
Punt Efficiency 19
Kickoff Efficiency 86
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 66
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9. A devastating special teams unit devastated

Okay, "devastated" might be harsh, but one of the 10 best special teams units in the country gets a pretty serious makeover in 2014. Cody Parkey, a good but replaceable kicker, is gone. Steven Clark, one of the deadliest punters and most automatic fair catches in the country, is, too. So are Tre Mason (kicks) and Chris Davis (punts), two of the steadiest, most explosive return men in the country.

One assumes Auburn isn't hurting for high-caliber return men (be it Quan Bray or someone else), but Clark was a particularly deadly field position weapon, and Auburn's special teams unit could sink a bit this fall.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Arkansas 53
6-Sep San Jose State 88
18-Sep at Kansas State 41
27-Sep Louisiana Tech 112
4-Oct LSU 12
11-Oct at Mississippi State 26
25-Oct South Carolina 7
1-Nov at Ole Miss 24
8-Nov Texas A&M 11
15-Nov at Georgia 10
22-Nov Samford NR
29-Nov at Alabama 2
Five-Year F/+ Rk 12.3% (24)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 8
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 0 / 0.5
TO Luck/Game -0.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)

10. This schedule, man

Let's put it this way: Auburn travels to Manhattan, Kan., on a Thursday night on national television, to face a raucous crowd and a team that has specialized in slowing Baylor down more than most. And that's perhaps Auburn's fifth-hardest game in 2014.

Let's put it another way: in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, Auburn is projected ninth in the country, with the No. 6 offense; the Tigers' projected record: 8-4. At ninth in the country. Auburn is given a five percent chance of matching or exceeding last season's 11-1 mark and, again, at ninth in the country, a seven percent chance of finishing 6-6 or worse.

One can forgive Auburn fans for not worrying too much about odds, of course; what were Auburn's odds of going 11-1 last year, after all? But in 2014, Malzahn should field a wonderful offense and another reasonably opportunistic defense, and his Tigers will need another round of miracles to reach college football's promised land.

What's my own personal prediction? Pssh. After last year, I'm keeping my damn mouth shut in that regard.