2014 CFN Preview - Auburn Tigers
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
Posted Jun 23, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Behind a terrific line and with a great QB, Auburn's attack will dominate. (Getty Images)

Auburn Tigers

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 Auburn Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Gus Malzahn
2nd year: 12-2
3rd year overall: 22-5
Ten Best Auburn Players
1. QB Nick Marshall, Sr.
2. C Reese Dismukes, Sr.
3. OG Alex Kozan, Soph.
4. LB Cassanova McKinzy, Jr.
5. WR D'haquille Williams, Jr.
6. RB Corey Grant, Sr.
7. RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Sr.
8. DT Gabe Wright, Sr.
9. S Robenson Therezie, Sr.
10. S Derrick Moncrief, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Arkansas
Sep. 6 San Jose State
Sep. 18 at Kansas State
Sep. 27 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 4 LSU
Oct. 11 at Miss State
Oct. 25 South Carolina
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss
Nov. 8 Texas A&M
Nov. 15 at Georgia
Nov. 22 Samford
Nov. 29 at Alabama

Yeah, there was some element of luck when it came to Auburn's terrific 2013 season.

It took a fortuitous bounce and one of the greatest finishes in college football history to beat Georgia 43-38 to keep SEC title hopes alive.

But the Tigers also put up 566 yards of total offense on the Bulldogs, helped by a fantastic performance from the offensive line.

Of course, it took one of the quirkiest plays and a few missed assignments for the Davis, Davis, Davis miracle to happen against Alabama to win the West and get to the SEC title game.

But the coaching staff had the presence of mind to put Chris Davis deep in the end zone to see if he could make something special happen. Also unfairly lost is the wonderfully executed late drive needed from the TIger offense to tie the score at 28.

Ohio State was off to play Florida State for the BCS championship. All the Buckeyes had to do was beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship, but they didn't, and Auburn was able to back its way into the shot at the national title.

But the Tigers did their part by rolling up 545 yards of total offense in an unstoppable 59-42 SEC championship win over Missouri.

There were several big breaks and a few all-timer moments to help make Auburn the biggest surprise of 2013 – going from 3-9 to within a late drive of the national championship – but the team and program made their own good fortune and they put themselves in a position to succeed. If luck really is when preparation meets opportunity, then throw out the whole Team of Destiny idea and give Auburn credit for hiring Gus Malzahn – the great coaching staff with the great scheme had the players in place and put them in a position to succeed.

You don't luck into close to 4,600 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns a year after running for 1,781 yards and 16 scores, and you certainly don't luck your way into an SEC championship.

And now the big question is whether or not Auburn can sustain the success, and if anyone can figure out how to stop the offensive juggernaut.

The defense isn't going to be anything too special, and while there's an abundance of promise in a secondary that got torched last year, there will be times when the offense will have to pick up the slack and be unstoppable.

No problems there.

How do you get better by losing a Heisman-caliber running back like Tre Mason and an NFL franchise blocker in Greg Robinson? The Tigers appear ready to do it with quarterback Nick Marshall returning, a great line to work behind, more outstanding running backs ready to go, and a few interesting new parts – like JUCO transfer receiver D'haquille Williams – to keep the nation's 11th-best offense and No. 1 rushing attack rolling.

No. you don't get the same breaks twice, and Auburn won't have the special plays that made 2013 so special, but it'll have to settle for execution and performance to get the job done.

Just like it did last year.

What to watch for on offense: More of the same, and even more of that. Don't think for a second that the offseason and the loss of Tre Mason and Greg Robinson will slow things down. If anything, the coaching staff and the attack appeared to be even stronger and more confident since the loss to Florida State. Nick Marshall is now a proven big game performer, the blocking scheme is terrific, there are plenty of fantastic backs to pick up the slack for Mason, and the receiving corps could explode with bit more of an emphasis on the passing game and with all the key parts back. Throw in the addition of super-recruit D'haquille Williams from the JUCO ranks, and the offense could and should be more diverse, more creative, and even more effective.

What to watch for on defense: The secondary has to hold its own. To be fair, most teams had to bomb away to try keeping up the pace with the Auburn offense, and the Tiger secondary had to deal with the Washington State all-pass attack, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, James Franklin and Jameis Winston, but the pass defense has to be stronger. Auburn allowed 300 yards or more five times and was bombed on by Manziel for 469 yards and Murray for 415. Chris Davis is gone after an all-star season, but the secondary overall has the potential to be far better helped by rising-star safety Derrick Moncrief from the JUCO ranks and with Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead two of the team's better defenders. It'll also help that the quarterbacks on the schedule don't appear to be anything too special, at least right off the bat – expect the overall numbers to be better.

The team will be far better if… Nick Marshall stays healthy. Auburn can do big things this season with its running game, talented defense, and schemes on both sides of the ball, but it probably can't realistically compete for the SEC and national championships unless No. 14 is the one leading the way. That's not to say that backup Jeremy Johnson can't play – he's going to eventually be a superstar in this offense with the size and skills to be outstanding – but for right now, Marshall knows how to run the attack perfectly and is improving enough as a passer to be a Heisman-caliber weapon. Great last year, Marshall appears to be on the verge of being truly special. If he is, Auburn will be, too.

The Schedule: If the offense is humming as expected, there shouldn't be any problems early on. Starting out the year against Arkansas will be a great test, and San Jose State could be interesting with nine starters returning on defense. And then comes the curveball, going off to Kansas State for an interesting non-conference date. Taking care of LSU at home is a must, but at the end of a rough stretch, and coming off the date with the Tigers, going to Mississippi State could be a trap.

There's a week off to rest up and prepare for South Carolina, but that's only the beginning with at Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia to follow before finally getting a break against Samford. Will the week off be enough to be ready for the revenge game at Alabama? There's not a game on the slate the Tigers can't handle - it'll be all about getting through the first 11 games with just one loss before dealing with the Crimson Tide.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Nick Marshall. It's easy to forget that Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier were supposed to be the main men in the mix for the starting quarterback job when the new coaching staff took over, but it was a JUCO transfer from Garden City CC who took the gig by the horns and was fantastic. It's easy to focus on his passing and the goal to improve, but he's already a terrific thrower when he needs to be. No, he might not be Peyton Manning, but he's an efficient passer who knows how to keep the chains moving. Of course, he's at his most dangerous when he's on the move and taking off as a crafty and effective runner. He's not Jameis Winston when in front of a microphone, but he'll be every bit as effective.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Cassanova McKinzy. Safeties Robenson Therezie, Jermaine Whitehead and Derrick Moncrief are all going to have big years in their various roles, and Gabe Wright should own the defensive interior, but it's McKinzy who should once again be one of the team's best all-around defenders after leading the way last year with 75 tackles. With excellent size and great athleticism, he looks the part for the weakside with good toughness and a great burst. Versatile, he can play anywhere in the linebacking corps.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore OT Shon Coleman. No one's expecting him to step in right away and be another Greg Robinson, but one of the biggest keys to last year's success was having a superstar NFL prospect paving the way when needed. Whether it's Coleman, or Avery Young, or Patrick Miller, the Tigers need production at left tackle, and they could use a star. The line will undergo some reshuffling, and it all starts with what happens with the guy who'll have the most to do with protecting Marshall.

The season will be a success if ... the Tigers get into College Football Playoff. Of course they want to win the SEC title again, but that doesn't really matter so much in the new world – it's all about being ranked in the top four. If Auburn repeats as SEC champs, it'll almost certainly find its way into the fun, but it could stand to lose one game along the way and still get in. With the team returning, and the not-that-bad schedule, 11-1 isn't asking for too much. Alabama almost certainly would've gotten into a playoff last year, even with the loss to Auburn at the end of the regular season. It wouldn't be shocking if that happened the other way this year.

Key game: Nov. 1 at Ole Miss. Again, barring something big from three other teams, Auburn can get into the playoff and have a shot at the national title by going 11-0 and losing to Alabama, but still, the Iron Bowl is always the key game – of course. But if the Tigers can take care of business at home against LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, the dangerous landmines are at Mississippi State and at Ole Miss. The Georgia showdown in Athens will be among the most hyped games of the year, but the battle with the Rebels might fly under the radar after the Tigers have to face South Carolina. Ole Miss has the make-up and the talent to screw up the AU season.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Auburn 32 for 223 yards – Opponents 18 for 121 yards
- Rushing Yards: Auburn 328.3 yards – Opponents 162.1 yards
- Fumbles: Auburn 30 (lost 11) – Opponents 16 (lost 6)

- 2014 Auburn Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players