Auburn will win SEC West again if these five things happen
The Auburn Tigers, defending SEC champions and national runner-up, opened spring practice on Tuesday. What are the chances for Gus Malzahn and Co. winning the SEC West and returning to the league (and possibly national) title game in 2014? Pretty good if these factors play out in Auburn’s favor.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
5. Marshall the passer matches Marshall the runner
Nick Marshall had a great year in 2013 as a dual-threat QB, rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 TDs while passing for 1,976 and 14 touchdowns (six picks). With Heisman finalist RB Tre Mason gone, Marshall might need to carry more of the load with his arm. Malzahn has said he wants to play even faster this season, which could help Marshall’s efficiency and turn him into the SEC’s most productive QB.
4. The defense becomes a top-50 unit
Auburn was 95th in the nation in yards per play allowed last season (5.96), an outlier among teams reaching the national title game. It’s the highest figure in the last six seasons by 0.6 yards/play – and that team was 2010 Auburn (5.36), which had Cam Newton. A top-50 unit would mean returning to about that ’10 level. We can assume Auburn won’t have the same luck in 2014 that it did last year. To help offset that, improvement on defense is required.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
3. LSU's QB battle remains unsettled
The Tigers will have a good defense under Les Miles, but replacing Zach Mettenberger at QB will be tricky. Sophomore Anthony Jennings could be considered the leader, but his bowl performance didn’t nail down the position. True freshman Brandon Harris, who enrolled early, is in the mix, as is redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig. It’s possible none of them grab the full-time position and a couple split time, which could cause a few sputters for the Tigers in a defense-dominant league. Auburn plays LSU at home on Oct. 4.
Getty ImagesAl Messerschmidt
2. Without Manziel, Texas A&M still doesn't play D
The Aggies will probably lose some offensive firepower in 2014. They have to, right? They lose Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews, all potential first-round picks. While those are huge holes to fill, Texas A&M’s biggest hindrance is a defense that ranked 109th in yards/play last season (6.36). How will that defense hold up against Marshall and Auburn when the Aggies visit Jordan-Hare on Nov. 8? We don’t like its chances.
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1. Alabama struggles to replace A.J. McCarron
Alabama will have a good defense in 2014. It will have at least one massive offensive cog in super-talented sophomore running back Derrick Henry, not to mention probable starter T.J. Yeldon. But will Nick Saban find the consistency he seeks in A.J. McCarron’s replacement at QB? It could be Jacob Coker or Cooper Bateman or David Cornwell or someone else grabs the job and plays exceptionally well. That’s possible. But it’s also possible that one Nov. 29, when Auburn comes to Bryant-Denny, the Tide are limited offensively and the Tigers are on their way to Atlanta.