We all know just how competitive the SEC when it comes to athletics, and it reaches a pinnacle in football. Will the Auburn Tigers be in the mix in 2015?
It wasn't the most dominant season we've seen in Auburn history, but the Tigers certainly held their own in the SEC. They went 8-4 in regular season play, which included a 4-4 mark against conference foes, but they were unable to finish the year off on a high note. In the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin, they lost 34-31 in overtime.
Despite the disappointing finish, Auburn recorded some very impressive wins throughout the course of the season. The Tigers topped the likes of LSU, Ole Miss and Kansas State, and they hung around with Alabama and Mississippi State out on the road. The worse two losses came at home to Texas A&M (albeit by only three points) and on the road versus Georgia (34-7).
Individually, QB Nick Marshall accounted for 20 touchdown passes against seven interceptions, while doing most of his damage with his legs; he ran for 798 yards and 11 additional touchdowns, helping Auburn have one of the most feared rushing attacks in the nation. Alongside Cameron Artis-Payne, opponents found it mighty difficult to come to terms with Auburn's ground game. Sammie Coates led the team in receiving (just shy of 750 yards).
Despite some personnel changes, the Tigers are still widely expected to be one of the premier teams in not only the conference, but the entire country. Auburn has re-established itself as a powerhouse in college football, and the 2015 season is setting up to be another highly successful one to add to an already storied history.
The Tigers have never had a problem recruiting the best athletes around, and they'll bring in another very talented recruiting class ahead of the 2015 season. First, however, let's run over those that are returning.
It appears as if junior Jeremy Johnson is ready to take over the helms of the offense. Johnson didn't make many appearances last season, but was very effective when he did so. A more prolific passer, the Tigers may not be as run-focused as they were last season, and it's going to be interesting to see how that affects their offensive efficiency.
With Artis-Payne no longer around either, we should be seeing Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas take over a majority of the touches out of the backfield. Robinson is similar to the departed Artis-Payne in his ability to run in between the tackles, while Thomas showcased some big-play potential when given the chance last season. At wideout, D'haquille Williams will be the go-to option after breaking out with 730 receiving yards and four touchdown grabs as a junior, while Ricardo Louis and Tony Stevens will also be more involved.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline heading into the season is the arrival of Will Muschamp, who latched on to become the defensive coordinator for Auburn after getting fired as head coach of Florida. Muschamp will have plenty of talent to work with, and he has to be thrilled to have one of the best overall recruits in Byron Cowart (a stud defensive end) on his side.
What To Expect?
There's a reason why the Tigers are in the top five on the college football odds futures list, right alongside the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, TCU and Florida State among others. Auburn lost some key pieces on both sides of the ball, but they've got more than enough cover and will have no trouble competing for the SEC crown in 2015.
Indeed, there could be some value in backing the Tigers, listed at roughly +1200 to win the national championship at most sportsbooks. The SEC is loaded, but Auburn clearly has what it takes to emerge as the last ones standing.