10 most critical questions Auburn must answer in 2022
Auburn is looking for stability and continuity after an offseason full of turmoil surrounding Bryan Harsin’s future with the program.
Harsin and the Tigers are looking to bounce back from his 6-7 first season, which marked the program’s first losing record since 2012. All that is in the rearview mirror now. The transfers, the coaching staff turnover, the internal investigation; and now the team is trying to return to bowl eligibility.
Here are the 10 most critical questions that Auburn must answer in 2022:
1. Will Bryan Harsin’s standing affect the team?
It appears that Harsin has rallied the troops enough to build an us-against-the-world mentality, and that’s the main way he will turn the ship back to a winning record and bowl eligibility. His coordinators must offer some stability, especially on offense, as there has been near-constant turnover. Harsin has done some public relations, such as starting a podcast, and now fully understands the landscape at Auburn.
2. Will Tank Bigsby return to peak form?
This is a key question for the offensive philosophy from new Auburn offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau. The offensive line is very experienced, and if it’s well-coached and performs, Bigsby should return to the form that made him a dominant back. At his peak, Bigsby should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Kiesau has said that the foundation of the offense will be a downhill and physical running game, and Bigsby is right in the middle of that.
3. Which transfer will have a key impact?
The key possibilities include Zach Calzada, Robby Ashford, DJ James, Eugene Asante and Jayson Jones. Because of the weight quarterbacks have, Calzada — or Ashford — has the best chance to fit this description. Calzada, who started 10 games for Texas A&M last fall, has invaluable starting experience, and that’s the kind of stability Auburn needs at the most important position. Calzada completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 2,185 yards, 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while averaging 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
4. Who will score the most touchdowns?
Landen King will likely be Auburn’s top receiving option, and he has the versatility to line up at tight end or wide receiver, which leads to tough matchups because of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. King appeared in 8 games last season and caught 5 passes for 59 yards and 1 touchdown.
5. Who will be the No. 1 wide receiver?
Shedrick Jackson is the best returning receiver in the group and should be a priority in the passing game. He has made 17 career starts, and last year he set career highs with 40 receptions, 527 yards and 1 touchdown. He has set out his plans for the position group. “I want to lead the wide receiver room and just make sure we’re all getting better collectively,” Jackson told AuburnTigers.com. “Then I want to make sure that I’m bettering myself so that I can lead from the front at all times — just have a big year, make big plays, and do special things.”
6. Who replaces Roger McCreary?
Auburn’s best cornerback left for the NFL, and after a stellar season, Oregon transfer James is best suited to fill that role. James was the Ducks’ starting boundary corner last season, and he appeared in 32 games during his 3 seasons at Oregon. James had a career year last fall while posting 46 tackles, 4 pass breakups and 2 interceptions in the Ducks’ secondary.
7. How many quarterbacks will play?
In this day and age, having a single quarterback go the entire season is rare, so ideally, there will be 2 quarterbacks. But Calzada is the safest bet to start the season and direct an offense that has Bigsby as the key cog. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Calzada has the kind of profile that Harsin likes in quarterbacks.
8. Will the defensive front live up to the hype?
Oregon transfer Jones is a key piece here. He has had a notable profile for a while. Jones is a former Alabama commit from Calera, Ala.; he’s listed at 6-foot-5, 320 and had 19 tackles this past season. He was a 4-star prospect in high school. He’ll be expected to draw multiple blockers, and because the defense is expected to be a strength of this team, his addition could take it to another level.
9. Who will replace Zakoby McClain?
Asante is a key figure here, and much of it will come down to how he adjusts to Jeff Schmedding’s defense. Asante is a transfer from North Carolina. He played in 37 games with the Tar Heels and made 62 tackles in 3 seasons. This past season he played in 12 games, finishing with 23 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries.
10. Will Owen Pappoe have a redemptive season?
Pappoe is a poster child for needing another season to reset his profile and status ahead of the NFL Draft. The former 5-star recruit started every game as a true freshman, and his production took off in 2020, when his tackles increased from 49 to 93. But last season, Pappoe missed significant time due to injuries, and he played in only 5 games.
Pappoe is expected to be the leader of the linebacker group and has every chance to deliver on those intentions.