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1. Never boring
For most programs, fortunes don't change in a single offseason, let alone a single snap. For Auburn, it's beginning to feel like change is a constant.
In the last five seasons, Auburn has ranked in the F/+ top 10 three times and has ranked 90th. The Tigers have gone 14-0 and 12-2 and 3-9, and the awful was sandwiched by the good, rather than being part of a logical progression.
In 2010-11, they won 10 consecutive one-possession games, then fell apart so quickly that close games were barely an option. In 2013, with Gus Malzahn taking over, they went 6-1 in one-possession games, crafting two once-in-a-lifetime finishes in a row against Georgia and Alabama before falling in the last second to Florida State in the national title game.
In 2014, the same pattern began. They survived a weeknight trip to Kansas State, then outlasted South Carolina. They beat Ole Miss because the Rebels' star receiver got hurt badly as he fumbled the go-ahead touchdown.
At 7-1, the Tigers were perched for another title run. But before season-deciding contests against Georgia and Alabama, they hosted a listless Texas A&M and fell behind, 35-17, at halftime. And not a single person in the stadium or watching at home expected them to actually lose. They cut the lead to three with seven minutes left.
This was a foregone conclusion. And then it wasn't. Auburn lost a fumble at the A&M goal line with under three minutes remaining, forced a punt, then lost another fumble via bad snap with a minute left.
A&M won. Mojo gone.
Seemingly stunned that karma would let them down, Auburn stumbled. The Tigers were blown out by a vengeful Georgia in Athens and couldn't keep up with Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They played fine in the Outback Bowl loss against Wisconsin but suffered ill-timed breakdowns. After beginning the Malzahn era by winning nine of 10 close games, they lost two late.
A listless final month hasn't slowed down the hype train. We usually overreact to late-season results (especially bowls), but in Auburn's case we appear to be ignoring them. At SEC Media Days, the Tigers were picked as the most likely team to win the SEC. This despite the fact that they're replacing their starting quarterback, their two leading running backs, two of their top three wideouts (at least), three offensive line starters (including an All-American), and must of their secondary.
So what gives? Why are we so high on the burnt orange and navy blue? A couple of things.
1. Bama fatigue. We seem to be on an "anybody but Alabama" bent. The Crimson Tide have finished in the F/+ top two for six consecutive seasons and have lost more than two games in a season once in the last seven years. They lost by a touchdown in last year's College Football Playoff to the only team that ranked above them (Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinals), and they're still recruiting top classes. But we appear to be simply tired of picking them. Hell, Sports Illustrated ranked the Tide behind Notre Dame, a team that, like Auburn, went 8-5. This is both understandable and kind of silly.
2. Will Muschamp. Over the course of 2014, the Auburn defense was actually pretty good. The Tigers ranked 20th in Def. S&P+, holding strong offenses like Kansas State (22nd in Off. S&P+) to 4.1 yards per play and Arkansas (15th) to 5.5. Even Georgia (sixth, 5.8) and Mississippi State (11th, 5.9) were held below season averages.
But returns diminished.
- Auburn Defense (first 5 FBS games): 4.6 yards per play, 14.4 points per game
- Auburn Defense (next 7 FBS games): 6.7 yards per play, 38.3 points per game
Auburn allowed more than 40 points per game in its five losses, and Malzahn elected to replace coordinator Ellis Johnson with Muschamp, the former Florida head coach. Muschamp's Gator defenses were stout, and now he doesn't have to worry about that pesky "managing the offense, too" thing.
With the way Malzahn has been recruiting, it's easy to connect these dots. Malzahn offense (which should be prolific no matter who's in uniform) plus Muschamp defense (angry and aggressive no matter what) plus star athletes equals success. And that makes sense.
But I do wonder if we're rushing things. Malzahn and Muschamp should be able to create a high baseline, but with turnover on offense and potential depth issues on defense, are we really sure this team is better than Bama?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 7|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|6-Sep||San Jose State||116||59-13||W||99%||53.9||100%|
|18-Sep||at Kansas State||26||20-14||W||87%||25.8||63%|
|11-Oct||at Mississippi State||13||23-38||L||70%||12.2||13%|
|1-Nov||at Ole Miss||5||35-31||W||94%||35.4||84%|
|Points Per Game||35.5||27||25.4||49|
2. And then the magic disappeared
A numbers person isn't supposed to use words like "mojo" and "karma," but Auburn makes it difficult. The miraculous run at the end of 2013, combined with the sudden shift in fortune the following November, makes you wonder about karmic forces.
Regardless of your belief system, Auburn was fine in 2014 ... until it wasn't. Things changed after A&M.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 9 games): 92% (~top 10 | record: 7-2)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 72% (~top 35 | record: 1-3)
Both offense and defense were at fault late. The offense was excellent against Alabama, good against Wisconsin, and awful against Georgia. The defense was fine against Georgia, iffy against Wisconsin, and awful against Alabama.
The ship wasn't sailing as it was supposed to. Or karma decided enough was enough. Your call.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.3%||12||Succ. Rt. +||123.2||9|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.9||48||Def. FP+||104.0||26|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.9||27||Redzone S&P+||133.4||5|
|Q1 Rk||10||1st Down Rk||4|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||16|
|Q3 Rk||19||3rd Down Rk||1|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jeremy Johnson||6'5, 240||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9274||28||37||436||3||0||75.7%||1||2.6%||11.3|
|Sean White||6'0, 200||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9342|
|Tyler Queen||6'1, 241||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8833|
3. The new lump of clay
No matter how hard you try, it's difficult to worry much about a Malzahn offense, isn't it? Last year's running backs lacked explosiveness, fans spent part of the season wondering if quarterback Nick Marshall was ever going to click in the passing game, three of the top four receivers missed time with injury, and the line had leaky moments.
The result: Auburn fell all the way from second to fourth in Off. S&P+. The Tigers ranked first in Passing S&P+, with Marshall averaging 8 yards per pass attempt (even including sacks) and thriving on third-and-long (on third-and-7 or more, he was 30-for-55 for 482 yards, four scores, and only two picks). The run game ranked a ghastly ... 15th in Rushing S&P+.
Good offenses sometimes have iffy seasons because of turnover in talent. I once wondered if Dana Holgorsen, for instance, was capable of putting up bad offensive numbers, and in 2013, he proved he was. You're rolling the dice when you replace a good quarterback, especially when you're also replacing his go-to guys.
We don't know that Johnson will be as successful as Marshall. We don't know that Roc Thomas, Jovon Robinson, and company will be as effective as Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant.
Hell, we don't even know that star receiver Duke Williams will play. (He's currently suspended for unspecified reasons.) And if Williams isn't around, then we don't exactly know whom Johnson will be throwing to.
Still ... try to worry. Johnson, a four-star prospect, passed his audition last year; he completed 12 of 16 for 243 yards against Arkansas, and in limited opportunities, he continued to produce. Johnson isn't as fluid as Marshall, and it will be interesting to see how Malzahn elects to use a bigger body in the run game, but he's got a nice skill set. And while receiver might be a question mark, he's got two former five-star recruits (Thomas, Robinson) in the backfield. Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee should be able to work with that.
|Roc Thomas||RB||5'10, 203||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9890||43||214||2||5.0||2.8||48.8%||2||2|
|Ricardo Louis||WR||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9088||18||220||1||12.2||12.7||61.1%||2||1|
|Peyton Barber||RB||5'11, 225||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8697||10||54||0||5.4||2.6||50.0%||0||0|
|Kamryn Pettway||FB||6'0, 242||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8774|
|Jovon Robinson||RB||6'0, 230||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||NR|
|Kerryon Johnson||RB||6'0, 195||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9807|
|Chandler Cox||FB||6'1, 232||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8913|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|D'haquille Williams||WR||6'2, 224||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9630||68||45||730||66.2%||21.0%||44.1%||10.7||189||10.5||137.0|
|Ricardo Louis||WR||6'2, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9088||32||21||261||65.6%||9.9%||65.6%||8.2||8||8.9||49.0|
|Marcus Davis||WR||5'9, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8302||19||13||92||68.4%||5.9%||36.8%||4.8||-63||5.0||17.3|
|Melvin Ray||WR||6'3, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9144||12||8||182||66.7%||3.7%||25.0%||15.2||86||12.6||34.2|
|Roc Thomas||RB||5'10, 203||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9890||7||6||27||85.7%||2.2%||85.7%||3.9||-42||6.2||5.1|
|Tony Stevens||WR||6'4, 205||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9352||3||1||22||33.3%||0.9%||33.3%||7.3||8||4.7||4.1|
|Jonathan Wallace||WR||6'2, 214||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8634||2||1||18||50.0%||0.6%||0.0%||9.0||5||N/A||3.4|
|Stanton Truitt||WR||5'9, 184||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8899||2||2||13||100.0%||0.6%||50.0%||6.5||-10||7.3||2.4|
|Myron Burton Jr.||WR||6'2, 201||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8410|
|Jason Smith||WR||6'1, 180||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9084|
|Darius Slayton||WR||6'2, 182||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9347|
|Ryan Davis||WR||5'9, 164||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9192|
4. Fine vs. awesome
This will probably be rectified the moment this preview is published, but as it stands, the status of Williams, one of the best receivers in the country, is uncertain. He's dealing with discipline issues, and while my bet is that he plays, it's only a guess. He might be done. We'll see.
Even if you subscribe to the theory that a Malzahn offense will be fine, there are degrees of fine, and the receiving corps takes on a completely different complexion depending on Williams.
With him, they return four of their top six wideouts, with a go-to star (Williams averaged 10.7 yards per target, carried Auburn against Kansas State, and caught seven passes for 121 yards against Alabama) and some high-caliber role players. Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis, with their combined 67 percent catch rate, are nice possession options, and Melvin Ray has hinted at big potential, catching just 13 passes but gaining 290 yards.
Without Williams, you've got seniors in Louis and Ray, a junior in Davis, and plenty of four-star youngsters (sophomore Jason Smith, redshirt freshmen Stanton Truitt and Myron Burton Jr., freshmen Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis). But somebody has to become a No. 1, and at least one freshman will have to produce.
With so much turnover elsewhere, it's easy to see this offense regressing if Williams isn't around to bail it out.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Reese Dismukes||C||50||Rimington Trophy; Consensus All-American; 2014 1st All-SEC|
|Avery Young||RT||6'6, 305||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9640||25|
|Alex Kozan (2013)||LG||6'4, 300||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8861||14|
|Shon Coleman||LT||6'6, 313||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9528||13|
|Devonte Danzey||LG||6'2, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8448||8|
|Xavier Dampeer||C||6'2, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8113||0|
|Jordan Diamond||OL||6'4, 304||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9541||0|
|Robert Leff||RG||6'6, 288||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8388||0|
|Will Adams||OL||6'7, 303||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8441||0|
|Braden Smith||LT||6'6, 286||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9678||0|
|Deon Mix||OL||6'4, 301||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8718||0|
| Austin Golson
|C||6'5, 304||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9553||0|
|Tyler Carr||OL||6'5, 313||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9088|
|Marquel Harrell||OL||6'3, 325||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9078|
5. Quite a bit of turnover up front
Auburn loses a lot and returns a lot.
All-American center Reese Dismukes, four-year starting guard Chad Slade, and tackle Patrick Miller are all gone, taking their 118 career starts (basically nine years' worth) with them.
But in part because guard Alex Kozan is returning from injury, the Tigers return three starters, plus a senior part-timer in Devonte Danzey. Combine that with a senior center (Xavier Dampeer) and a high-upside Ole Miss transfer (Austin Golson), and it's hard to worry too much about the line.
Center is like quarterback. You don't know for sure that you have a good one until you see him in a game. But Auburn has a couple of solid candidates for replacing Dismukes, and the combination of experience and upside should assure this line remains effective.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.5%||81||Succ. Rt. +||113.4||24|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.2||70||Off. FP+||104.0||25|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||44||Redzone S&P+||121.6||14|
|Q1 Rk||41||1st Down Rk||22|
|Q2 Rk||40||2nd Down Rk||37|
|Q3 Rk||32||3rd Down Rk||59|
6. No pressure, Coach Muschamp
Yep, all Muschamp has to do is turn Auburn's defense into Florida's, and voila! Title contender! Get on that, Coach.
He's got some upside to work with. Thanks to the return of end Carl Lawson (injured in 2013), the Tigers return four linemen who made at least 5 tackles for loss in their last seasons, two major play-makers in linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost (combined: 21.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles), two seasoned safeties in Johnathan Ford and Joshua Holsey (three if you include transfer Tray Matthews who played an integral role at Georgia as a freshman), and a super-active cornerback in Jonathan Jones, who defensed 18 passes and got burned a few times. Add to that a layer of four-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen, and it appears Muschamp has a lot of toys.
As strange as it may sound, the biggest issue might be depth. The projected starting 11 is loaded with third-, fourth-, and fifth-year guys, but the second string will be made up almost entirely of underclassmen. Even high-upside youngsters still sometimes take a while to find their groove, and any injuries could result in an inconsistent unit. You know, like last year's unit.
Still, even if Muschamp's first defense is only good and not Florida-good, it's hard to imagine him needing too much time to do something great.
One other interesting variable: Muschamp vs. tempo. As Florida's head coach, he employed a plodding offense that seemed like it was designed to buy time for the defense. Now he will be working opposite one of the most potent offenses in the country. His defense will be on the field more, which could create the need for more depth ... which he might not have until 2016.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Montravius Adams||DT||6'4, 296||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9945||13||35.0||4.9%||8.0||3.0||1||0||0||0|
|Gimel President||DE||6'4, 263||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8656||12||24.0||3.4%||5.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|DaVonte Lambert||DE||6'2, 282||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9150||11||18.0||2.5%||7.0||3.5||0||2||1||0|
|Carl Lawson (2013)||DE||6'2, 257||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9897||11||17.0||2.3%||7.5||4.0||0||0||2||0|
|Keymiya Harrell||DT||6'4, 270||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8615|
|Devaroe Lawrence||DT||6'2, 281||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8366|
|Justin Thomas-Thornton||DE||6'5, 228||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9422|
|Dontavius Russell||DT||6'3, 295||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9311|
|Andrew Williams||DE||6'4, 270||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9076|
|Maurice Swain||DT||6'5, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8650|
|Byron Cowart||DE||6'3, 277||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9987|
|Prince Tega Wanogho||DE||6'8, 250||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9481|
7. Depth up front: minimal
The top four returnees up front combined for 94 tackles in their last seasons. The No. 5 returnee made ... zero. Thanks to graduation and quite a bit of attrition, experience almost completely dries out after the top four.
Of course, talent can overcome experience. The tackle position may completely devoid of the latter beyond junior Montravius Adams, but in players like redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell (that's right, Auburn might be starting tackles named Montravius and Dontavius) and JUCO transfer Maurice Swain, the Tigers still seem to have plenty of the latter in the middle.
End could be an outright strength, with the trio of Lawson, Gimel President, and DaVonte Lambert combining with redshirt freshmen Justin Thomas-Thornton and Andrew Williams and all-world freshman Byron Cowart (who's big enough to see time on the inside as well).
If you don't have experience, you need options. Auburn probably has enough to find a couple of keepers.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cassanova McKinzy||MLB||6'3, 253||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9119||13||75.5||10.6%||11.0||1.5||1||0||1||0|
|Kris Frost||WLB||6'2, 240||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9480||13||73.0||10.3%||10.0||3.5||1||3||3||0|
|Justin Garrett||WLB||6'1, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8761||13||15.0||2.1%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tre' Williams||LB||6'2, 238||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9856||13||12.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|JaViere Mitchell||LB||6'2, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8801||13||9.5||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenny Flowers||LB||6'1, 234||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594||13||4.5||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Cameron Toney||LB||6'1, 243||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8747|
|Jeff Holland||OLB||6'2, 240||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9443|
|Darrell Williams||LB||6'2, 234||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9225|
|Richard McBryde||LB||6'1, 227||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9184|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Johnathan Ford||BS||6'0, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8952||13||77.5||10.9%||2.5||0.5||3||1||1||0|
|Joshua Holsey||FS||5'11, 198||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9342||12||38.5||5.4%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jonathan Jones||CB||5'10, 181||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8805||13||29.5||4.1%||1||0||6||12||1||0|
|S||6'1, 192||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9632||8||29.5||4.0%||1.5||0||1||4||1||0|
|NB||5'10, 185||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||NR||12||20.0||3.2%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Nick Ruffin||STAR||6'0, 191||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9432||12||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|T.J. Davis||CB||6'0, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8789||13||5.0||0.7%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Stephen Roberts||FS||5'11, 187||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9415||12||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Jordan Colbert||DB||6'1, 226||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9256|
|Montavious Atkinson||DB||6'1, 183||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9010|
|Tim Irvin||DB||5'9, 194||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8994|
|Javaris Davis||DB||5'10, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8988|
|Carlton Davis||DB||6'1, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8904|
8. Too many big pass plays
The pass defense was almost good in 2014. The Tigers did have a top-40 efficiency rating (Passing Success Rate+) and allowed a passer rating of 120 or worse in seven games. They shut down Kansas State's Tyler Lockett (with help from a couple of uncharacteristic drops), they picked off MSU's Dak Prescott and Alabama's Blake Sims three times each, and they dominated lesser passing games (SJSU, Louisiana Tech, Wisconsin ... LSU).
But when it went wrong, it went really wrong. Despite the interceptions, Sims managed to complete 20 of 27 with a 197.8 passer rating. Texas A&M's Kyle Allen went 19-for-29 for 277. Big plays were a bugaboo for Auburn -- they allowed 44 completions of at least 20 yards, 91st in the country.
Muschamp doesn't have bad secondaries, but this one will take work. Johnathan Ford is a disruptive presence, and newcomers Tray Matthews (Georgia) and Blake Countess (Michigan) are former star recruits with experience. (Matthews, by the way, did have an unfortunate role to play in Auburn's miracle bomb to beat Georgia in 2013.)
Youngsters like sophomore Nick Ruffin and some other former four-stars could end up fine, but between young unknowns and volatile knowns, it wouldn't surprise me if this unit still gave up big plays. Luckily, the damage could be limited by both the DBs' athleticism and a solid pass rush.
|Daniel Carlson||6'4, 213||So.||41||42.0||1||9||13||53.7%|
|Daniel Carlson||6'4, 213||So.||80||62.7||50||1||62.5%|
|Daniel Carlson||6'4, 213||So.||57-57||13-14||92.9%||5-10||50.0%|
|Ricardo Louis||KR||6'2, 215||Sr.||8||21.4||0|
|Marcus Davis||PR||5'9, 180||Jr.||2||15.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||76|
|Field Goal Efficiency||90|
|Punt Return Efficiency||39|
|Kick Return Efficiency||119|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||15|
9. Three Daniel Carlsons
Auburn put a lot on the leg of a freshman last year. Daniel Carlson was the Tigers' punter, kickoffs guy, and place-kicker; he was a majority of the special teams unit, in other words.
Honestly, he fared pretty well. He missed only one kick under 40 yards, he placed five of every eight kickoffs for touchbacks, and he averaged 42 yards per punt. The unit's problems came from everywhere else. Coverage was a question mark -- Auburn ranked just 72nd in opponents' punt return average and 87th in opponents' kick returns. Combine that with nonexistent kick returns, and you've got a pretty mediocre unit.
With Carlson's return, special teams won't be an outright weakness. But we'll see if the other question marks have solutions, especially without a good punt returner in Quan Bray.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|3-Oct||San Jose State||105|
|7-Nov||at Texas A&M||22|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||28.4% (19)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||5 / 7|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 5.6|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+0.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (4, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||8.8 (0.2)|
10. So many tossup games
Scouting the enemy
Scouting the enemy
Lost amid the conversation about mojo: win or lose, Auburn has played in 12 one-possession games in two seasons. That they're 9-3 in those games has resulted in a 20-5 record, but the key is that a good portion of the Tigers' record has come down to individual bounces.
We should see more of the same. Auburn plays home games against three projected top-10 teams (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss) and visits three teams projected between eighth and 22nd. Toss in a neutral-site game against a Louisville with potential, not to mention a potentially tricky trip to Kentucky, and you've got a slate that is loaded with potential close games.
It's not impossible to see a top-five caliber Auburn running the table, easing by LSU and Arkansas on the road and finishing with home wins (probably dramatically) over UGA and Bama.
I'm struggling to picture that. While I'm not a betting man, I would have long ago learned not to bet on Auburn regardless. They turn when you think they're going to twist, zag when most teams would zig.
But a team with normal karmic ebbs and flows, ranking somewhere in the top 10 or 15, would probably lose at least a couple of games here. In fact, despite a No. 11 projection, the Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (college-only version available for only $6 in PDF form) gives the Tigers only a 15 percent chance of finishing 10-2 or better. And no, mojo is not one of the projection factors.
I worry about defensive depth, and until we know that Williams is actually going to play, I worry about the receiving corps. The floor for a Malzahn offense and Muschamp defense will be high, but the Tigers will have to approach their ceiling, repetitively, to live up to the hype.