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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.
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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||6||1st Down Rk||5|
|Q2 Rk||2||2nd Down Rk||7|
|Q3 Rk||12||3rd Down Rk||4|
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).
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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)|
|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%|
|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)|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||35||1st Down Rk||66|
|Q2 Rk||24||2nd Down Rk||24|
|Q3 Rk||23||3rd Down Rk||3|
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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Quan Bray||KR||5'10, 195||Sr.||14||23.6||0|
|Quan Bray||PR||5'10, 195||Sr.||12||5.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||7|
|Field Goal Efficiency||50|
|Punt Return Efficiency||14|
|Kick Return Efficiency||14|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||66|
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
|6-Sep||San Jose State||88|
|18-Sep||at Kansas State||41|
|11-Oct||at Mississippi State||26|
|1-Nov||at Ole Miss||24|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||12.3% (24)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||8|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / 0.5|
|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.