When all of the preseason college football polls come out in the coming weeks, you’ll likely find the Auburn Tigers in the top 10, and with good reason, considering the talent on the roster.
Simply put, Auburn has enough talent to win a national championship this fall.
Especially at the key positions of QB and along the defensive line. Look back at a list of the past national champions and you’ll find a consistent theme among the winners that they all possessed an elite defensive line and receive good (not necessarily great, but at least steady) QB play. These are two areas in which the Tigers are loaded.
The rest of the roster is fairly deep as well. Let’s look at the positional units.
QB: Jarrett Stidham is a legitimate Heisman contender who could be in the running to be the first player picked in the 2019 NFL Draft if this season goes as planned.
RB: The Tigers lost Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway, which is a big blow, but one should have faith in Gus Malzahn’s ability to produce 1,000-yard backs. Junior RB Kam Martin averaged 6.1 yards per carry on 74 attempts last year and has been waiting patiently for his chance to be the bell cow back. Malik Miller, JaTarvious Whitlow and Asa Martin make the unit deep and talented, though inexperienced.
WR: Scouts will tell you that you want your receiving corps built like a basketball team, with each guy providing something different. The Tigers have just that. They have the long and explosive deep threat in Darius Slayton (22.2 yards per catch in 2017). They have the sure handed possession receiver in Ryan Davis (a school record 84 receptions last season). They have the shifty and reliable slot WR in Will Hastings. Eli Stove is an all-purpose guy and Nate Craig-Meyers is the former 4-star oozing with potential waiting to break out. This is a very, very strong receiving unit.
OL: This is definitely the biggest question mark. Losing four key veterans from last year’s squad along with coach Herb Hand (who left for Texas) makes this the most pressing issue. Still, three of the five starting spots appear to be solidified – LT Prince Tega Wanogho, LG Marquel Harrell and RG Mike Horton – so it’s not like the unit is in compete shambles. There’s talent to work with here. Wanogho especially is freakishly gifted.
DL: This should be one of the best units in the country with elite front line talent and plenty of depth. Dontavius Russell, Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown make for one of the most talented and experienced defensive fronts in all of college football. Brown especially is remarkably gifted who, at 6-5, 325 pounds, can be an absolute wrecking ball up front. T.D. Moultry and Big Kat Bryant will provide the speed off the edge lost in Jeff Holland and backup DE Nick Coe would be a starter for nearly any other team in the country.
LB: Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montavious Atkinson comprise one of the more experienced LB units in the SEC. Davis, after leading the team with 82 tackles last year while chipping in 7 TFLs and 4 sacks, could be poised for an All-American type of year. K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten are very talented younger guys who provide depth.
DB: Javaris Davis should be one of the best NBs in the country this fall. Jamel Dean is a big and physical cover corner who has first round potential if he can stay healthy. Noah Igbinoghene moved from slot WR to CB this spring and blew coaches away with his performance, showing natural cover skills. Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson, though filling big shoes at safety left behind by Stephen Roberts and Tray Matthews, show some upside. Expect a talented group of freshman like Jamien Sherwood, Quindarious Monday and Christian Tutt to provide depth.
Special teams: They return punter Aidan Marshall but lose 3-time All-American PK Daniel Carlson, which is obviously a huge blow. Replacing him is his little brother Anders, who was the top PK recruit in the 2017 class. They should be OK here.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying or predicting they will win the national title, because Malzahn can be wildly inconsistent in big games – the two games against Georgia last year being a prime example – and the schedule is not exactly a cakewalk.
The season opener against Washington will be a good litmus test, as the Tigers will face a very good QB in Jake Browning, coached by one of the best in the business, Chris Peterson. After that, their three toughest SEC games are all on the road – Mississippi State at the end of September and both Georgia and Alabama in November. Those latter two games especially will be the defining games of the season, assuming they don’t drop a game or two along the way that they shouldn’t.
The point is, though, this roster is talented enough to win a national championship. Obviously, they’ll need some luck on the injury front (similarly to everyone else), but they have the pieces in place to win their second national title in the past 8 years.