Auburn was so close to solidifying its first appearance in the College Football Playoff last season. If it weren’t for an injury to star running back Kerryon Johnson in the Iron Bowl, an argument could be made that the Tigers would have held up the national championship trophy on Jan. 8.

That’s all in the past now, though. How does Auburn move forward now that some of the top talent from last year’s squad has moved on to the NFL?

Here are 10 questions the Tigers must answer in 2018 if they want a chance at another SEC West title — and more:

1. How will the run game look without Kerryon Johnson?

To say that Johnson was an important part of the offense would be an understatement. In fact, you could argue that he was the offense.

Auburn’s running backs carried the ball 489 times last season. Johnson had 285 of those carries (58.3 percent), which he turned into 1,391 yards and 18 TDs. All three of those statistics led the SEC.

To make matters worse, Kamryn Pettway decided to skip his final season of eligibility to go to the NFL. That’s another 76 carries (15.5 percent), 305 yards and 6 TDs gone.

Can 5-10, 193-pound Kam Martin handle a heavy workload in the SEC? Auburn’s streak of producing a 1,000-yard rusher might depend on it.

2. Can the defensive line lead the SEC in sacks?

The Tigers return one of college football’s most feared defensive lines. Guys such as Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown have already emerged as household names.

Now, it’s time for people to discover just how dominate Nick Coe, Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant and others can be in that rotation as well.

Auburn’s 37 sacks ranked No. 19 in the country. Granted, the Tigers will be looking to replace 10 of those with just the loss of starting Buck LB Jeff Holland.

Expect them to be just as good — if not better — in 2018.

3. Will the offensive line continue to struggle protecting Jarrett Stidham?

As good as the defensive line was at getting after quarterbacks, Auburn’s offensive line was equally as bad protecting its own. The unit surrendered 36 sacks, which puts them next to last in the SEC (No. 114 in the nation).

The Tigers lost their top two offensive linemen too.

Starting RG Braden Smith was a second-round pick for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. Austin Golson didn’t get drafted, but his experience (50 career starts) and ability to play all five positions was crucial to Auburn’s success.

New starting LT Prince Tega Wanogho is one to keep an eye on. He struggled last season, but he’s got the physical makeup to be one of the top offensive tackles in the country.

4. Who replaces Carlton Davis as the No. 1 cornerback?

Carlton Davis didn’t put up eye-popping statistics last season. He was No. 14 on the team in tackles (36) and only snagged one interception.

That means Davis was doing his job — quite well, actually. When he was tested, the 6-1, 203-pound corner didn’t surrender much. He led the Tigers in pass deflections (11) while also giving up one of the lowest contested catch rates in college football, according to Pro Football Focus.

So, who has the best chance of emerging as Auburn’s shutdown cornerback?

The smart money should be on Jamel Dean. He brings even more length (6-2, 208) to the position, and he has plenty of experience. Don’t count out Javaris Davis or true freshman Christian Tutt, though.

5. Can Anders Carlson be as good as his brother?

Daniel Carlson finished as the best kicker in school history. During his 4-year stint as the starter, he converted 92-of-114 field goal attempts (80.7 percent) while also being a perfect 198-of-198 on extra points.

To further prove his dominance, he’s also the SEC’s leading scorer (480 points). That type of career is why Carlson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round (No. 167 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Now, it’s his younger brother’s turn.

Anders Carlson is a redshirt freshman who has a chance of becoming the Tigers’ next elite kicker. He was named A-Day special teams MVP after converting kicks of 53, 45, 41 and 38 yards. He also made a 62-yard field goal during a scrimmage in April.

6. How will the offense play in Year 2 under Chip Lindsey?

During Chip Lindsey’s first year as offensive coordinator, the offense found balance (3,056 rushing yards, 3,267 passing yards) after struggling to find a consistent, complementary passing game in 2016. That improvement was a major reason the Tigers were in the Playoff hunt so late in the season.

There have been significant losses, however. Does that mean the offense will regress in 2018?

It’s possible, but not likely. Auburn returns one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks in Jarrett Stidham (3,158 passing yards, 66.5 completion percentage, 22 total TDs).

The team will rely on the Baylor transfer a lot more with Johnson and Pettway gone, but a Malzahn-Lindsey-Stidham marriage could continue to thrive in Year 2.

7. Will the coverage units improve on special teams?

Auburn’s coverage units were terrible last season, to put it mildly. The Tigers ranked No. 109 in opponent’s punt return average (11.43) and dead last (No. 130) in kickoff return average (27.20).

What makes the lack of production so strange is it was only a year after finishing No. 8 in punt return average (3.17) and No. 14 in kickoff return average (18.00) in 2016. The only explanation is the departure of special teams coordinator Scott Fountain, who left for Georgia following the 2016 season.

It was an unfortunate series of events considering Fountain was actually let go.

This team needs to find a way to get back into the Top 50, at least. A continued deficiency in this area can — and probably will — prevent a Playoff appearance if it’s not corrected.

8. What will the depth at wide receiver look like after the injuries?

One of the strengths of Auburn’s returning roster was suppose to be the wide receivers. All five of the team’s top receivers were back to give Stidham a deep stable of weapons. After ACL tears for Will Hastings (26 receptions, 325 yards, 4 TDs) and Eli Stove (29 receptions, 265 yards), that depth has taken a major hit.

The top 3 options will be Ryan Davis, Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers, which is an impressive group. How the depth plays out after that is anyone’s guess.

The good news is the Tigers signed five receivers — including three 4-star prospects — in the 2018 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. It’s possible that 3-star ATH Kolbi Fuqua could end up at receiver as well.

9. Does Malik Willis stick as the No. 2 quarterback?

There was some buzz surrounding the arrival of 4-star prospect Joey Gatewood. The 6-4, 237-pound specimen was Auburn’s highest rated commitment (No. 1 ranked athlete, No. 49 overall) in the 2018 class, after all.

There’s even been some comparisons to former Auburn great Cam Newton. That sort of hype led some people to believe that he could overtake Malik Willis as the No. 2 quarterback behind Stidham.

The spring gave us two pieces of information regarding the situation: 1) Yes, Gatewood is talented but 2) he isn’t close to being ready. The talented freshman needs time, and Willis showed flashes during his first season on The Plains.

10. Is Arryn Siposs the answer at punter?

Auburn didn’t have an efficient punter in 2017. The Tigers ranked No. 13 in the SEC in net punt average (39.47 yards), which only led Arkansas (38.59).

That’s why Australian punter Arryn Siposs was brought in. According to the 247Sports composite rankings, he nation’s No. 6 player at his position.

He didn’t have a chance to enroll early, so Auburn still doesn’t officially know what they have in him. Hopefully, he can be the answer they’ve been looking for.