Looking at the big picture with how Auburn’s athletic teams performed during the 2018-19 academic year the Tigers trended up, but there is still room for improvement.
For the good of the entire athletic department that needs to start right away in 2019-20 with a better season by the football Tigers. Gus Malzahn knows that the team needs to do better than 8-5 overall and 3-5 in the SEC and from talking to the coach recently he sure seems to believe he has the type of team that can take a big step forward.
Among the reasons he likes his 2019 group is a load of experience on the front end and the back end of the defense, five returning starters on the offensive line who are all seniors, more quality depth at running back and the potential for a strong kicking game.
If one of the young quarterbacks, Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix, proves he is ready to take on the challenge of facing one of the most demanding schedules in college football then the Tigers could be back in business when it comes to challenging in the SEC West.
My day job is being editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers where we just finished our biggest project of every year, our annual football guide (available at J&M Bookstore), which calls for several months of research and writing to get ready to go to press. After we wrapped up this year’s edition we are not going to be picking the Tigers to win the SEC West at the annual SEC Media Days, but I do think Malzahn has a point about the Tigers having plenty of potential.
On the overall AU sports scene the big risers for 2018-19 were men’s basketball, baseball and women’s golf while the equestrian team continues its impressive run with another national championship. The track and field teams along with the tennis squads had down years so there is major work to do on those fronts.
From the notebook:
• With the decisions by third baseman Edouard Julien and pitcher Jack Owen to bypass pro baseball offers this summer and return to Auburn for their junior years, Coach Butch Thompson looks like he will have his most talented roster for the 2020 season. Most of the key players from this year’s College World Series team plan to return and join what looks to be a strong signee class that took minimal hits from the pro draft.
• Coach Bruce Pearl says he is very excited that his non-drafted seniors, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer, have signed pro contracts. Spencer is headed to way down south to play in Argentina while Brown and Dunbar are headed to the desert to play in NBA Summer League where Jared Harper has also signed to play for the Phoenix Suns. Brown signed with the Sacramento Kings and Dunbar agreed to a deal with the Golden State Warriors.
• On the subject of Pearl, he got in another dig at SEC coaches at the league’s annual summer hoops teleconference when he made a point to mention, in great detail, that Chuma Okeke wasn’t chosen for the All-SEC first or second teams. He also mentioned that Okeke was not named to the league’s all-defensive team.
Okeke was the 16th player chosen in the first round of the draft. Pearl declared that the Orlando Magic drafted the best defensive player in the SEC and a truly versatile basketball player who can defend any position in addition to being an inside/outside scoring threat on offense.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter