SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Auburn Tigers.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. College football’s biggest weapon
Auburn possesses college football’s biggest weapon, and it isn’t any player; it’s Gus Malzahn. From his style of play, game day play calls and innovative offense, Malzahn is the country’s biggest weapon. He attacks defenses until he smells blood in the water, and when he smells it, good luck stopping the gushing, because he’s going to attack it. Malzahn is just in his third year as a college head coach, and already, every program in the country would hire him…not named Alabama. His rise from the high school ranks to college football has been well documented and dissected, but the sky is the limit for Auburn’s program under his watch, regardless of whether Nick Saban stays at Alabama for 10 more years.

2. Balance
Will Auburn achieve more offensive balance in 2014? Do they even want to achieve more balance? Why not run it down teams’ throats again and lead the country in rushing? The evolution of Nick Marshall and the passing game will be on display, and Marshall’s weapons, Sammie Coates and Duke Williams, could be the country’s finest tandem. Whether the offense achieves balance or is run-heavy, Marshall is the catalyst for it all.

3. Brutal schedule
Auburn plays seven preseason ranked opponents this season, including road trips to both Georgia and Alabama in the last month. That will test the will and overall health of the team as November closes. Compare Ohio State’s schedule to Auburn’s; the Buckeyes play one preseason top 25 team. Auburn plays seven. The schedule is the biggest opposition Auburn will have to overcome.

4. The Hunted
Perhaps the biggest difference between last season and this season lies between the ears. Last year, it was Auburn being overlooked and surprising teams. Now, it’s a completely different ball game, but it’s all mental. It’s a mindset. Yes, the season’s a grind, but handling success is real. The reality is Auburn will get everyone’s best shot in 2014.

SDS Takeaway: Auburn is the SEC’s most talented team for 2014, but I do think Alabama escapes the West for one reason that’s not even named Nick Saban: the schedule. Of all the contenders, Alabama plays the most favorable schedule of the bunch, while Auburn plays the toughest. If we’ve learned anything through the BCS era, it’s that when teams have favorable schedules, they have to take advantage of it.