Leading up to the start of the college football season, The Red & Black will preview each of the 13 teams Georgia plays alongside in the Southeastern Conference. Today, The Red & Black takes a look at the Auburn Tigers.
10-4 (7-1 SEC); 1st in SEC West
Summary of last season
Auburn lost four games in 2017 but was still knocking on the door as a national championship contender. The Tigers weathered early-season losses to Clemson and LSU to position themselves well heading into late-season showdowns with Georgia and Alabama.
Both teams were ranked No. 1 when they went on the road to face Auburn and the Tigers were victorious in both meetings to earn a No. 2 ranking the College Football Playoff Rankings heading into an SEC Championship rematch against Georgia. The Bulldogs smashed the Tigers 28-7 to punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff while Auburn was forced to settle for a Peach Bowl meeting with UCF. Auburn fell flat against the undefeated Knights and sputtered out after being in the national title conversation just a month prior.
Replacing the work horse
One of the biggest question marks on Auburn’s 2018 roster is regarding who will replace superstar running back Kerryon Johnson. Johnson rushed for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games last season. The Tigers also lost Kamryn Pettway, who was held to just five games last season because of injury but notched 1,224 rushing yards in 2016. Kam Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow are the leaders for carries now for the Tigers, who have had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008.
Key returning players
Jarrett Stidham, quarterback: Stidham came into the 2017 season as a highly-touted transfer player after sitting out 2016. The Baylor transfer lived up to the hype as a redshirt sophomore and threw for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He comes back as one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks in the country and has garnered some Heisman Trophy buzz.
Derrick Brown, defensive lineman: Brown leads a stacked Auburn defensive line and along with Stidham, the position group could make Auburn a national player once again. As a sophomore in 2017, Brown tallied 57 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as an interior defensive lineman. A product of Lanier High School in Buford, Georgia, Brown is a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft and will be a leader on a talented Auburn defense.
Auburn has a brutal schedule in 2018. The Tigers have road games against Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State and open the year with a neutral-site matchup with No. 6 Washington. However, the combination of good quarterback play and a dominant defensive line makes the Tigers a tough matchup for any team. High expectations constantly surround Auburn’s program, but 9-3 seems like a realistic outcome given the strength of its schedule this season.