With the football season less than 11 weeks away, it is never too soon to begin to look at the opponents that will try to derail the Clemson Tigers’ quest for a second-consecutive national championship and their third appearance in the College Football Playoff in as many years.
Today, we continue our series with the Tigers’ second opponent—the Auburn Tigers, who will look to exact a little revenge after losing the season opening game at Jordan-Hare Stadium to the Clemson Tigers.
Gus Malzahn, the Tigers’ fifth-year head coach, has amassed a 35-18 (18-14 SEC) record in his first four years at the helm of the program, but this season could be a make-or-break one if he wants to hang around Alabama for a sixth.
Malzahn’s 2016 Tiger team went 8-5, including an appearance in the New Year’s Six Sugar Bowl—a top-10 team, according to both ESPN and Athlon Sports, will have the fanbase looking for more than an eight-win season if they expect to keep Malzahn, and his $4.7 million salary, around another year.
Malzahn played musical-quarterbacks against Clemson to open the season, and as the season went on it did not matter who was at quarterback—the Auburn passing game was a disaster.
The Tigers ranked 112th in passing offense last season leading the Tigers to get back to their bread-and-butter—running the football, which they did to the tune of finishing the season ranked sixth in the nation.
The Tigers’ quarterback issues should be a non-factor this season, as they will turn the quarterback duties over to former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham—who, coming from Baylor, understands how to throw a forward pass.
The Tigers also return the deadly running back duo of Kamryn Pettway (895 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Kerryon Johnson (1,224 yards, 7 touchdowns), giving first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey the threat of a balanced offense that the 2016 team did not have.
The good news for Auburn is the defensive unit, led by former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, that Auburn ran out onto the field in 2016 was, arguably, one of the best in the nation behind defensive linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson—allowing only 361.9 yards per game.
The bad news for Auburn is that both Adams and Lawson are currently battling for spots on their respective NFL teams, meaning they will have to find a pass rush with Marlon Davidson and Paul James III, who missed last season due to a knee injury, leading the way.
While replacing Adams and Lawson will be a big task, a solid group of linebackers and one of the best secondary’s in the SEC should be enough to keep the Tigers in most of their games—which is exactly what they did last season, allowing only 15.6 points per game.
The Tigers of Clemson open as an early 7-point favorite over the Auburn Tigers, the big reason for Clemson opening as a touchdown favorite—they won the national title last season.
“I think Auburn’s going to be really good, but of course, Clemson, I think you have to give them a lot of respect for winning the championship last year—being in the championship two years ago,” South Point Sports Book’s director Chris Andrews said on SiriusXM’s My Guys in the Desert.