If the Auburn football team opens the season the way the players and coaches desire, that means the Tigers will have successfully danced through their opening four games after mastering their Texas Two-Step.
The Tigers will step into the Lone Star state for the first time this year for a Saturday night matchup against the Oregon Ducks, an opponent that is loaded with experience on offense led by six-foot-six Justin Herbert, who should one of the top quarterbacks in college football this year.
Something that could help the Tigers emerge with a victory vs. Oregon is a veteran defense that has a chance to be one of the top groups in the SEC. Coach Kevin Steele’s unit might be up to the task of causing headaches for an Oregon offense that returns almost all of its starters from last year’s 9-4 team.
The only inexperienced part of Auburn’s defense that will be playing at JerryWorld on Saturday night is the linebacker corps, but the group’s performance has been a pleasant surprise in preseason. There may be some growing pains early in the season, but position coach Travis Williams has four guys (K.J. Britt, Chandler Wooten, Zakoby McClain and freshman Owen Pappoe) he says are ready for prime-time.
Oregon is ranked above Auburn in preseason polls and the main reason for that is very high expectations for that team’s offense with almost all of the starters returning. The Ducks’ defense, which returns seven starters, is expected to be improved, but I like Auburn’s chances of being able to run the football on Saturday night.
The Tigers feature five returning starters on the offensive line with each of those guys having something to prove. Saturday’s matchup at AT&T Stadium in front of a national TV audience is the perfect venue for those fifth-year seniors to show they have truly improved like their teammates and coaches are saying.
With Auburn starting true freshman Bo Nix at quarterback it makes sense that the Tigers will test Oregon’s defensive front early and often with what should be an improved group of running backs led by sophomores Boobee Whitlow and Shaun Shivers, who both run with a nice combination of quickness and power.
As he begins his seventh season as Auburn’s head coach, Gus Malzahn’s special teams groups should be a plus led by punter Arryn Siposs, kicker Anders Carlson and kickoff returner Noah Igbinoghene.
It probably won’t be easy, but I like Auburn’s chances of returning home from Texas with an opening night victory as long as the Tigers don’t make things easy for the Ducks with turnovers or multiple major mistakes.
The Tigers will step back into Texas for the other major challenge on their pre-October schedule. On Sept. 21st they will travel to College Station to face the Aggies of Texas A&M. Like Oregon, the Aggies finished 9-4 last year. Also like Oregon, the Aggies are going into the season ranked higher than Malzahn’s team.
By the time the Tigers make their second trip to Texas it will be game four on the schedule and Nix will have had some seasoning at quarterback, which will be needed matching up against an opponent that didn’t score less than 38 points in a game after losing 28-24 to Auburn last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The other early games are at home vs. Tulane and Kent State, but the real tests for the Tigers will happen out in Texas. If this Auburn team is up to the challenge that will be a sign that the players know what they are talking about when they say their 2019 team will be improved.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter