Auburn football: 10 bold predictions for the 2019 season
When it comes to Auburn football, you have to expect the unexpected. Ranked or unranked in preseason polls? Chances are you are to see an amazing season full of shocking games, amazing wins and a great record. Ranked high? Well, the Tigers don’t necessarily have a good history when that occurs.
At No. 16 in both major polls to start 2019, no one knows what will happen when Gus Malzahn’s team takes the field. Sure, the defense should be solid, but questions on offense — including a true freshman in Box Nix being named the starting quarterback — leave a lot of mystery to what the Tigers can achieve offensively.
With that said, here are 10 bold predictions I think we will see during Auburn’s 2019 campaign.
1. Auburn will win an early game from defense alone
As stated, there could be some major hiccups early on offense with Nix and a wide receiver corps that must stay healthy. This is where a dominant defensive line and experienced secondary comes in.
Could this game come as soon as the opener against Oregon? Let’s all remember the only other time the Tigers and Ducks matched up — the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. It wasn’t the explosive shootout many expected. Cam Newton led Auburn to a 22-19 victory, a slugfest in which both defenses had important stops. Add in preseason jitters for both sides and Derrick Brown and Co. could win this Week 1 showdown in spite of a shaky offense.
2. Bo Nix will take command of the quarterback position … and Joey Gatewood will transfer
It has become increasingly easy for players to transfer, and this, in my opinion, is a good thing. If Nix commands the job like Malzahn thinks he will, there would be no hard feelings toward Gatewood (or any other QB on the roster) if they decided to go elsewhere. Woody Barrett did it and he will come back to Jordan-Hare Stadium this season as a member of Kent State.
3. Will Hastings returns with a bang
Hastings missed all of last season after bursting onto the scene in 2017 with 525 receiving yards and 4 TDs. Now expected to be healthy, he is a major threat in the passing game and could be a reliable go-to guy for Nix when needed. The roster lists him at 5-10 and 167 pounds, but that might be giving him some extra credit. The little guy is a pest for defensive backs.
4. Owen Pappoe will make a major contribution at linebacker
Granted, Pappoe enters his freshman year after being a 5-star outside linebacker, but there is a huge difference between dominating in high school and seeing the field in the SEC. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has already complimented the 18-year-old and, with the lack of experience and depth at the linebacker position, Pappoe could see the field early and often.
5. Auburn will lose a game it isn’t supposed to …
Let’s just go ahead and label this the Tommy Tuberville Syndrome. It seemed every year in Tuberville’s 10-year tenure, he would blow a game to an inferior opponent (Arkansas in 2006, anyone?). With a brutal schedule this year, it is hard to pick one where the Tigers should handily win, but look no further than the Oct. 19 trip to Fayetteville to face the Razorbacks as the one where Malzahn and his guys trip up.
6. … and win a game it shouldn’t
I’m looking at you, Texas A&M. The Tigers still haven’t lost at Kyle Field, albeit in just 3 trips since the Aggies joined the SEC. This game comes 2 weeks after Jimbo Fisher and Co. travel to Clemson for a shot at taking down the reigning national champions. Can a hangover last 2 weeks? It certainly could if Clemson does its thing and pounds the Aggies.
7. The 1,000-yard rusher returns after a year hiatus
There were a lot of reasons Auburn failed to field a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in 9 seasons last year: an inexperienced offensive line, a stale offensive game plan, new RBs, etc. All of that will change with the return of Boobie Whitlow and a year of playing experience for all 5 guys up front. Look for Whitlow to challenge 100 yards every game. He has a mean streak and wants to become the next great Auburn running back.
8. The play-calling will be more Purdue Music City Bowl-like …
And a lot less second-half against LSU-like. There might still be people in the eastern part of Alabama who still have nightmares about the second half of the 2017 LSU game, when the Tigers seemed to be one step from taking a knee every snap, finishing with 64 yards, and any signs of that happening again might create a Lee County-wide mental breakdown. Malzahn is going to put the pedal to the metal on offense this season. That is exactly what the doctor (or therapist) ordered for many Tigers fans.
9. Auburn will beat Georgia but lose to Alabama
It is the last season where the so-called “Amen Corner” will be sandwiched around a cupcake game. While Georgia has a lot of talent returning and quarterback Jake Fromm will have revenge on his mind after the 40-17 pounding the Dawgs took in 2017 in Jordan-Hare, the Tigers’ defense and, by then, the experienced offense will overtake Kirby Smart’s team. The Iron Bowl? It will be a lot closer than last year, a 52-21 Tide beatdown, but Tua Tagovailoa and the Tide will be too much.
10. The Tigers finish 8-4 and Gus Malzahn will be out as head coach
Despite A) the brutal schedule that would make any college team blush, B) Malzahn has been hot on the recruiting trail recently and C) he is owed a $26.6 million buyout if fired after the 2019 season, an 8-4 season will be the final straw for a coach who has really only had 2 good seasons. And one of those still ended with 4 losses. Malzahn needs at least 9, and maybe 10, wins to save his job. It would take a major leap for this team, and some upsets, for that to occur. It’s not going to happen.