Give me the top college football programs (currently) off the top of your head. You'd say Ohio State, Alabama, FSU, Oregon, and maybe a few others, but there is one team that is poised to be the new power in our beloved college football. It has had some scattered success over the past several years, but this is their time to take the college football world by storm. No, it's not Tennessee (not saying they won't be successful). The program I'm talking about is located in the eastern part of Alabama. You got it. Its name is Auburn University.
Yeah, they got a great future. They already have a good tradition of winning. My memories of Auburn (in my lifetime) really began in the Tommy Tuberville days. You remember them as happy times if you are a fan of that team on the Plains. Tuberville and the Tigers enjoyed great success against their hated in-state rival and team measuring stick Alabama. They won six straight games against the Crimson Tide.
Then, Nick Saban showed up and turned the tide (no pun intended) in the rivalry. Tuberville couldn't handle Saban and was forced to resign after the 2008 season. Then, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs hired Gene Chizik who went 5-17 at Iowa State. So yeah, people questioned the hire, and Jacobs took some heat, but everything was forgotten and forgiven when a guy named Cam Newton showed up on the scene and led the Auburn Tigers to a memorable 2010 season that included an incredible second half comeback win against Alabama and capturing the 2011 BCS Championship title.
All good things have to end one day. Newton declared for the NFL Draft, and the next season Auburn struggled to an 8-5 record, and then fell to an abysmal 3-9 record in 2012. Chizik was promptly fired after that atrocious campaign. Jacobs got it right with the next head coaching hire. He hired the former offensive coordinator during the 2011 BCS Championship season, Gus Malzahn, who was busy in his own head coaching stint at Arkansas State. Still not a lot of expectations for 2013. Auburn was going to rebuild after a horrible season. Right?
No, they lost one game in 2013 early in the season and beat hated #1 Alabama in Auburn in one of the greatest games in the history of the Iron Bowl Rivalry that will always be remembered for the legendary missed field goal returned for 109 yards for the game winning touchdown for the Tigers. Chris Davis became a folklore hero and his return (a.k.a the Kick Six) will be remembered forever. Auburn then won a thrilling, high-scoring SEC Championship over Missouri and was mere seconds away from winning the 2014 BCS Championship against Florida State.
Malzahn completely transformed the Auburn offense - molding it into a cutting-edge, exciting, and dangerous, up-tempo read option attack. He was an outstanding offense recruiter as well, as evidenced by the amount of offensive talent we've seen on the Plains over the last several years. The defensive side of the ball for the Auburn Tigers was less than stellar. Despite some good SEC talent on defense, the Tigers' defensive coaching staff, particularly DC Ellis Johnson, wasn't able to do anything with it. It was always the weakness of Auburn and was most always a liability. Johnson was fired last November and the coaching search was on.
Meanwhile, coaching turmoil was going on at the University of Florida. Will Muschamp was fired as the Gators head football coach. Florida always had a very good defense but Muschamp couldn't figure out the offensive side of the ball and after a 4-8 season in 2012 with a loss to then FCS GA Southern and a mediocre 2014, he was sent packing. Auburn swept in and promptly hired Muschamp as their new defensive coordinator.
Muschamp was an outstanding recruiter of defensive talent in his time in Gainesville, and the effects were felt almost immediately in Auburn. His swift efforts on the recruiting trail helped lead the Tigers to a top ten class in the country including hauling in 10 defensive signees including the #1 overall recruit in America in DE Byron Cowart. He is also an outstanding developer and defensive coach as evidenced by the number of defensive studs that are sent to the NFL from Florida each year. I believe Muschamp is one of the best defensive coaches in the country, and his units have been consistently good. Auburn truly hit a home run with this hire.
The Tigers haven't been without talent on defense; they have just had a lack of good coaching and development. That will all assuredly change under Muschamp. The big returning gem that Muschamp will have on his disposal is DE Carl Lawson. He missed all of 2014 with injury, but make no mistake, Lawson has All-American potential. Auburn will also have at its disposal star LB Cassanova McKinzy who had 91 tackles last season as well as DT Montravius Adams. A newcomer to watch is UGA transfer DB Tray Matthews that showed flashes of brilliance while he started multiple games during his freshman season. He was dismissed from the Bulldogs in the offseason, transferred to Auburn, and sat out a year. He's ready to contribute now.
On the offensive side of the ball, Gus Malzahn should enjoy another stellar offensive year despite losing QB Nick Marshall and the running back duo of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Another big loss for the Tiger offense is multiple losses from a receiving corps that was arguably the best and deepest as a whole. Departures include Sammie Coates, Quan Bray, and TE C.J. Uzomah. They do however return Ricardo Louis who had that slightly memorable catch a couple years ago against UGA and 2014's second-leading receiver in Duke Williams. I believe Williams will be one of the best if not the best pass-catcher in 2015. He is unbelievable.
Roc Thomas returns as the leader in the Tiger's backfield, and he proved he was certainly capable in a solid freshman season. Nick Marshall is gone at quarterback, but his replacement Jeremy Johnson is not to be overlooked. He might not have the athleticism of Marshall but can use his legs when he has to. He is known as more of a pocket passer and has a strong arm.
So yeah, Auburn should have a good if not great year in 2015. Gus Malzahn has great talent on offense every year, and they should have one of the top units in the country once again this season. The defensive side of the ball is in the capable hands of Will Muschamp, and he has a few toys at his disposal. I'm not saying that Auburn will dominate in 2015, but watch out in the next several years. That football program on the Plains is a dynasty in the making.
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