NOTE: We updated Auburn's game-by-game predictions for the August 20, 2009 issue. Check it out here!
In due time, all of our questions surrounding the Auburn program will be answered. Will the spread work the second time around? Can Neil Caudle finally live up to his potential? Can depth issues upfront be overcome? Which Gene Chizik is for real: the genius who made hay in Texas or the goat from Ames?
In the meantime, for argument’s sake, we’re going to spoil the end of the upcoming season with the final installment of the 2009 Auburn Football Preview: Predictions!
Sept. 5 – Louisiana Tech (Auburn) – Tech enters its third season under head coach Derek Dooley with high expectations, considering that Dooley has dramatically improved the Bulldogs program every year since his arrival. Tech defeated Mississippi State in the 2008 opener, capitalizing on MSU’s toothless offense. Isn’t Auburn in a similar situation at the moment? Certainly the Tigers will have their struggles early in the year as they adapt to Gus Malzahn’s new scheme, but it shouldn’t prevent them from beginning the Chizik era on the right foot. Auburn 24, Louisiana Tech 14
Sept. 12 – Mississippi State (Auburn) – In his first season as a head coach, poor Dan Mullin inherits a bare cupboard in Starkville. The lone exception is true freshman quarterback Tyler Russell, the state’s top prospect last year, who figures to have little competition for the starting job. Of course, throwing a true freshman into the fire will undoubtedly have negative consequences. Auburn 17, Mississippi State 7
Sept. 19 – West Virginia (Auburn) – How the Mountaineers will respond without QB Pat White will ultimately dictate the success or failure of their season. The hype surrounding his replacement, Jarrett Brown, is high following his impressive showing in the West Virginia spring game. With RB Noel Devine and LB Reed Williams both returning for 2009, chances are the Mountaineers will be in prime position to contend for the Big East title this season. Will playing in the Alabama heat cause them to wilt? Don’t bet on it. West Virginia 28, Auburn 20
Sept. 26 – Ball State (Auburn) – Unlike West Virginia, chances are Ball State will need at least a year to recover from the departure of Nate Davis at quarterback. The Cardinals chances of repeating their 12-2 magic from a year ago will hinge on a red-shirt freshman under center playing behind a very young offensive line. Auburn’s last tune up before a five-game SEC gauntlet should snag them win No. 3. Auburn 38, Ball State 10
Oct. 3 – Tennessee (Knoxville) – I said it a week ago while previewing Alabama’s ’09 schedule, and I’ll say it again: We’re about to find out if Lane Kiffin is crazy like a fox or just plain crazy. I’m inclined to believe the latter. In fact, I stand by my recent proclamation (which prompted several dissenting comments from UT fans) that Kiffin is the worst SEC hire I can recall. Obviously, I recognize that he has yet to coach an SEC game, but neither has Chizik, who many of the same UT fans suggested instead. Granted, both could end up being successful in the long run, which would undoubtedly prove me wrong. But, all things being equal between the two men, Kiffin is way out in front in the race for worst hire. Name one incident thus far in which Gene Chizik has embarrassed the Auburn program. Maybe the limo thing, but that’s debatable. On the contrary, here are three Kiffin blunders off the top of my head: here, here and here. Either way, if Tennessee can figure out a way to learn the complicated Tampa 2 defense in time for week five, they can tame the Tigers in Knoxville. Tennessee 21, Auburn 17
Oct. 10 – Arkansas (Fayetteville) – Bobby Petrino finally has a quarterback (Michigan transfer Ryan Mallet) around which he can establish his high-octane offense. Couple that with the return of talented RB Michael Smith, and the Hogs should be hard to stop when they have the ball. The problem last season, which could very well be the problem this season, was that the defense couldn’t get off the field. To make matters worse, the Razorbacks will have only one returning starter in the secondary in 2009. Auburn 31, Arkansas 24
Oct. 17 – Kentucky (Auburn) – This game comes at a bad time for the Tigers; sandwiched in between two tough, SEC road contests. The Wildcats have had a hard time playing with consistency over the past couple of seasons. One week they’re gangbusters, the next week they’re just plain busted. The 2009 defense looks sharp once again, but the key to the Wildcats’ ultimate success or failure rests with Mike Hartline under center. He had flashes of brilliance throughout last year, but they were short-lived. Still, Auburn is set up to fail here. The Cats defense is talented and deep, and the Tigers might be peaking ahead at next week’s rivalry game in Louisiana. Kentucky 20, Auburn 14
Oct. 24 – LSU (Baton Rouge) – Auburn can peak ahead all they want, but unless one of those Tigers-Tigers rivalry miracles takes place this year, they’ve got no shot at victory. Whoever Les Miles has established at quarterback – and chances are it will be Jordan Jefferson – will undoubtedly put on a better performance than the Hatch and Lee show from last season, which still found a way to beat Auburn in Jordan-Hare. Only six starters return on defense, but after years of top recruiting classes, the Bengal Tigers should be able to reload. LSU 31, Auburn 17
Oct. 31 – Ole Miss (Auburn) – It appears that things have finally come together for the Rebels under second-year coach Houston Nutt. Jevon Snead has settled in a quarterback, the Wildcat formation has flourished in Dexter McCluster’s hands and Enrique Davis is in prime position to finally live up to his hype at running back. The only weakness the Rebs have going into the fall is upfront defensively, with the loss of both Michael Oher and Peria Jerry to the NFL. Still, the Ole Miss offense should be strong enough to carry the day against the Tigers. Ole Miss 30, Auburn 20
Nov. 7 – Furman (Homecoming) (Auburn) – Win No. 5 should be a cinch against the Paladins, who finished 7-5 in 2008, but played only one Division 1-A opponent. Auburn 55, Furman 9
Nov. 14 – Georgia (Athens) – Georgia is in rebuilding mode after losing offensive superstars Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the first round of the NFL Draft. Taking their place will likely be QB Joe Cox and RB Caleb King, both able athletes, but mighty young. Of course, by this point in the season, no one’s a rookie anymore. On defense, the ‘Dogs have a bunch of holes to fill, including finding replacements for both Asher Allen and C.J. Byrd in the defensive backfield. So, does Auburn have a decent chance of knocking off Georgia in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry? Of course they do. But the game being in Athens gives the Bulldogs a slight advantage. Georgia 24, Auburn 21
Nov. 21 – BYE WEEK
Nov. 27 – Alabama (Auburn) – If my prognostications are correct, Auburn enters Gene Chizik’s first Iron Bowl with a 5-6 record. A win over the Crimson Tide would assuage any ill will accumulated during the season, and would bestow instant legitimacy on Jay Jacobs’ hiring practices. However, Alabama is at least two-deep at every position. By now, new starters at quarterback, running back, left tackle and free safety will be fully entrenched and prepared for the atmosphere they’re likely to face at Jordan-Hare on that Friday afternoon. Perhaps no SEC defense will be better prepared to face the Malzahn spread than Saban’s squad. The Tide’s speed and complicated scheme of multiple coverages should be able to disrupt the Tigers’ offensive rhythm. And with depth an issue upfront defensively for Auburn, Alabama’s trio of talented running backs should be able to wear the Tigers out down the stretch. Alabama 21, Auburn 13
So, we’re going with 5-7 for Chizik’s first season on The Plains. Considering the fact that the Tigers are adopting new schemes in all three phases of the game, likely debuting a new quarterback and have serious offensive line issues, five wins should be what realistic fans would expect.
Could it be better? Maybe, if Tennessee is worse than expected, the Tigers could steal a victory away from the Vols.
Could it be worse? Maybe, if Petrino’s Arkansas team can overcome major issues on defense.
Could it be that we’re crazy for predicting college football games in April? Maybe, but what else are we going to talk about for the next 130 days?