clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Buckle up, Auburn fans. 2015's going to be another crazy ride.

New, comments

A Gus Malzahn offense, a Will Muschamp defense and a load of talent have the Tigers considered Playoff hopefuls. Whether that's fair or not, we're all about to have some fun.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Arkansas 9 45-21 W 97% 44.9 96%
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%
27-Sep Louisiana Tech 35 45-17 W 98% 48.6 99%
4-Oct LSU 22 41-7 W 99% 58.5 100%
11-Oct at Mississippi State 13 23-38 L 70% 12.2 13%
25-Oct South Carolina 38 42-35 W 93% 34.6 96%
1-Nov at Ole Miss 5 35-31 W 94% 35.4 84%
8-Nov Texas A&M 42 38-41 L 87% 26.0 71%
15-Nov at Georgia 4 7-34 L 46% -2.4 0%
22-Nov Samford N/A 31-7 W 88% 27.0 100%
29-Nov at Alabama 2 44-55 L 65% 8.9 3%
1-Jan vs. Wisconsin 25 31-34 L 87% 26.5 54%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 44.7 4 21.1 20
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.91 34 IsoPPP+ 143.8 4
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.2 ACTUAL 20 -0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 17 5 9 4
RUSHING 14 15 15 20
PASSING 67 1 4 1
Standard Downs 15 14 17
Passing Downs 2 3 1
Q1 Rk 10 1st Down Rk 4
Q2 Rk 3 2nd Down Rk 16
Q3 Rk 19 3rd Down Rk 1
Q4 Rk 1

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Nick Marshall
178 293 2532 20 7 60.8% 14 4.6% 8.0
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Cameron Artis-Payne RB
303 1608 13 5.3 4.6 41.9% 2 2
Nick Marshall QB
139 885 11 6.4 6.0 47.5% 3 3
Corey Grant RB
60 364 3 6.1 4.3 53.3% 0 0
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
Quan Bray WR
9 74 1 8.2 5.0 66.7% 4 3
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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Sammie Coates WR
75 34 741 45.3% 23.1% 41.3% 9.9 297 10.2 139.0
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
Quan Bray WR
50 39 471 78.0% 15.4% 70.0% 9.4 15 9.4 88.4
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
C.J. Uzomah TE
21 11 145 52.4% 6.5% 42.9% 6.9 6 6.7 27.2
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
Cameron Artis-Payne RB
17 13 147 76.5% 5.2% 11.8% 8.6 -5 4.4 27.6
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
Corey Grant RB
11 10 92 90.9% 3.4% 72.7% 8.4 -22 8.5 17.3
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
Brandon Fulse TE
3 2 27 66.7% 0.9% 33.3% 9.0 3 6.8 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.

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 124.2 3.43 3.37 45.7% 78.6% 16.4% 132.2 3.7% 5.2%
Rank 5 10 57 13 8 27 28 39 31
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Reese Dismukes C 50 Rimington Trophy; Consensus All-American; 2014 1st All-SEC
Chad Slade RG
49
Avery Young RT 6'6, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9640 25
Patrick Miller RT
19
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
(Ole Miss)
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.

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.91 98 IsoPPP+ 105.4 53
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.8 ACTUAL 27.0 +1.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 66 41 26 53
RUSHING 69 23 20 34
PASSING 70 59 39 69
Standard Downs 43 23 69
Passing Downs 29 29 27
Q1 Rk 41 1st Down Rk 22
Q2 Rk 40 2nd Down Rk 37
Q3 Rk 32 3rd Down Rk 59
Q4 Rk 12

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.

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 2.99 2.54 36.9% 70.7% 22.9% 82 3.3% 5.9%
Rank 36 71 16 39 87 19 96 97 95
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Ben Bradley DT
13 17.5 2.5% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 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
Gabe Wright DT
13 17.0 2.4% 4.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Angelo Blackson DT
13 14.5 2.0% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
LaDarius Owens DE
13 14.5 2.0% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Elijah Daniel DE
13 11.5 1.6% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jeffrey Whitaker DT
9 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Anthony Swain MLB
13 14.5 2.0% 3.0 1.0 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








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Jonathon Mincy CB
13 62.5 8.8% 6 1.5 1 8 0 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
Robenson Therezie STAR
13 37.5 5.3% 4 0.5 0 6 2 0
Jermaine Whitehead FS
9 31.5 4.4% 1 0 6 1 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
Tray Matthews
(Georgia)
S 6'1, 192 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9632 8 29.5 4.0% 1.5 0 1 4 1 0
Derrick Moncrief BS
13 20.5 2.9% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Blake Countess
(Michigan)
NB 5'10, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) NR 12 20.0 3.2% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Brandon King DB
13 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trovon Reed CB
12 10.5 1.5% 0 0 3 4 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Daniel Carlson 6'4, 213 So. 41 42.0 1 9 13 53.7%
Jimmy Hutchinson 9 36.6 0 2 2 44.4%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Daniel Carlson 6'4, 213 So. 80 62.7 50 1 62.5%
Alex Kviklys 7 58.1 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Daniel Carlson 6'4, 213 So. 57-57 13-14 92.9% 5-10 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Corey Grant KR 18 22.4 0
Ricardo Louis KR 6'2, 215 Sr. 8 21.4 0
Quan Bray PR 15 18.1 2
Marcus Davis PR 5'9, 180 Jr. 2 15.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 76
Field Goal Efficiency 90
Punt Return Efficiency 39
Kick Return Efficiency 119
Punt Efficiency 50
Kickoff Efficiency 44
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep vs. Louisville 32
12-Sep Jacksonville State NR
19-Sep at LSU 8
26-Sep Mississippi State 21
3-Oct San Jose State 105
15-Oct at Kentucky 52
24-Oct at Arkansas 12
31-Oct Ole Miss 6
7-Nov at Texas A&M 22
14-Nov Georgia 3
21-Nov Idaho 116
28-Nov Alabama 1
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

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.