If there was one team the experts got wrong last year, including us at Saturday Down South, it was Auburn.

It is Year 4 for coach Gus Malzahn, and despite the fact that he was within seconds of a national title in 2013, his seat has gotten warm on The Plains. Just ask Gene Chizik, who went from champ to chump quickly.

On the offensive side of the football, it’s safe to say that the Jeremy Johnson era didn’t go as planned. While he’s still in the mix, along with fellow 2015 starter Sean White, the tea leaves suggest that John Franklin III will get the gig. Defensively, there is talent everywhere but another coordinator yet again.

The Tigers need to get back to running the ball and running it at the pace that set the world afire a few seasons ago. But Nick Marshall isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Tre Mason. New blood is needed.

Auburn isn’t expected to compete with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. That’s trouble for Malzahn.


SDS 2015 projection: 10-2 (6-2)
Actual record: 6-6* (2-6)

* doesn’t include postseason

Predicting every 2016 game:

Sept. 3 vs. Clemson (L): The first of five consecutive home games to start the year welcomes an awfully tough opponent, as nobody wants to defend Heisman contender Deshaun Watson in Week 1.

Sept. 10 vs. Arkansas State (W): Another Week 2, another cupcake hitting the road for a paycheck game in the SEC. Hopefully this isn’t Jacksonville State all over again for Auburn.

Sept. 17 vs. Texas A&M (W): Many experts believe Jovon Robinson to be a better runner than the departed Peyton Barber, so he can keep the Aggies offense on the sideline.

Sept. 24 vs. LSU (L): The Tigers had no answers for Leonard Fournette on the road a year ago, and hosting him this time around won’t change the outcome much.

Oct. 1 vs. ULM (W): The Warhawks have proven to be pesky over the years when venturing into hostile SEC territory, but Auburn is too talented to be spoiled at home.

Oct. 8 at Mississippi State (W): Of their four conference road games, this one in Starkville is by far the most winnable.

Oct. 22 vs. Arkansas (W): In a battle between middle-of-the-back West teams looking to stay as far out of the cellar as possible, Auburn gets the benefit of the doubt at home.

Oct. 29 at Ole Miss (L): Chad Kelly was picked off twice in this matchup last year but did throw for 381 yards and two touchdowns, plus this time he gets the Tigers in Oxford.

Nov. 5 vs. Vanderbilt (W): The Commodores can keep this one close with Ralph Webb on the ground and an underrated defense, but they haven’t won an SEC road game since 2013.

Nov. 12 at Georgia (L): The bad news here for Auburn is that it’s Week 11, meaning Bulldogs freshman QB Jacob Eason will have had plenty of time to develop already.

Nov. 19 vs. Alabama A&M (W): The Tigers get back on the winning track by feasting on a cupcake at home and letting the second- and third-stringers shine for a day.

Nov. 26 at Alabama (L): If not for Cam Newton pulling a rabbit out of his hat or Chris Davis and the Kick Six, Auburn would be winless in the Iron Bowl since 2007.

SDS 2016 projection: 7-5 (4-4)
SEC race: 5th in the West

The Skinny: Even with literally twice as many home games as road trips this year, Auburn has too difficult of a schedule to negotiate more cleanly. The Tigers open the slate with last season’s national runner-up and finish it with the defending national champion. In between is no picnic, either.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.