How did new SEC schedule impact Auburn's goals in 2020?
The 2020 college football season is going to be unlike anything we have ever seen before. After the impact of COVID-19, the uncertainty created a conference-only schedule for multiple conferences, including the Southeastern Conference.
With a slate of 10 conference-only games, 2 needed to be added to each team’s schedule. The Tigers landed Tennessee and South Carolina. They join Kentucky, the typical East crossover in Georgia, and the entire SEC West to complete the schedule.
Times and dates will be released next week, but we do have a starting point to begin figuring out Auburn’s chances at a Playoff run.
It isn’t the same gift that was given to teams such as Georgia (Mississippi State, at Arkansas) or LSU (Missouri, at Vanderbilt). It will do, however, as both are winnable games for the Tigers.
After going on a 6-game winning streak to finish 2019, Tennessee is considered a team on the rise. But keeping that game out of Knoxville is huge win for Gus Malzahn and company — even if there won’t be fans in the stands. In a lot of ways, the Vols are a comparable squad as far as talent and question marks.
In other words, consider it a toss-up game.
The game against South Carolina, despite being on the road, is even more manageable. The Gamecocks lack proven playmakers on offense after losing the top 3 rushers from 2019, as well as star wide receiver Bryan Edwards. With that said, the defense could cause problems, especially with NFL caliber talent in the secondary.
Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu and Brian Robinson help make up an impactful group on the back half of Will Muschamp’s defense, and it will be fun to see how Bo Nix and Auburn’s talented group of receivers stack up.
The Gamecocks’ defensive front is molded much like Auburn’s stacked with young, blue-chip recruits.
The road to the College Football Playoff will not be easy with road games against Georgia and Alabama, but the lack of fan attendance could mitigate some of the disadvantages.
Another key factor could be the time given between those matchups. Even before the pandemic created world chaos and forced changes to the college football schedule, the Georgia game had been moved up earlier in the season. That change would have allowed the Tigers more time to regroup after playing the Bulldogs, so the hope is that opportunity will still exist.
At the end of the day, the talent across the board in the SEC is going to make it difficult for any team to produce an undefeated record. That means that a 1- or even 2-loss season could still land Auburn in the Playoff.
That could provide them with a little wiggle room, but how many games pose a major threat to the Tigers? Well, there are at least 6 that should be circled by fans:
- at Alabama
- at Georgia
- Texas A&M
We’ve already touched on 3 of those, but let’s look at LSU and Texas A&M.
The reigning national champions are dealing with significant losses on offense, including Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, tight end Thaddeus Moss and 4 starters along the offensive line.
That doesn’t even take into account the loss of passing game coordinator Joe Brady.
The defense is facing similar turnover with multiple Day 1 and 2 picks taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. In other words, LSU is vulnerable, especially if Auburn can get them early before new QB Myles Brennan finds his footing.
Texas A&M returns most of its starters from an 8-5 team last season. But whether it was under Kevin Sumlin or now head coach Jimbo Fisher, it feels like the Aggies have consistently underperformed over the past several years. If that continues, Auburn has a good chance at winning that game.
It’s going to be a difficult season with a slate of 10 conference games, but while Auburn’s Playoff chances aren’t high, things have fallen in place for the Tigers before.
Auburn’s season is set to get underway on Sept. 26, but as mentioned previously, we still don’t know who the opening week opponent will be.