OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
Auburn under coach Gus Malzahn is the epitome of SEC football: a great combination of power football combined with gadgets and trickery, simple concepts for explosive athletes. Facing Malzahn, you have to prepare for things that he did 10 years ago as an offensive coordinator, because you never know what he's going to dig up. It actually waters down what you're doing in a game because you're spending time covering your bases and chasing ghosts.... There's still a lot to be desired with quarterback JARRETT STIDHAM. Facing a rush, his eyes come down: He gets nervous because he doesn't want to get hit. If you're bringing pressure—or even if you act like you are—he's going to see it and it's going to affect him. People caught onto that at the end of the year. In its Peach Bowl win, Central Florida did a great job of pressuring him.... The defense has a chance to be one of the best in the country. It's very good up front: Middle linebacker Deshaun Davis is the leader of the group and Big Cat—defensive end Markaviest Bryant—really came on toward the end of the season. Even when Stidham and the offense are struggling, the defense will win games for them.
BY THE NUMBERS
Single-digit losses (to Clemson, LSU and Central Florida) among Auburn's four last season.
Times Jarrett Stidham was sacked in 2017, tied for sixth-most in the country.
After a roller-coaster start to the Malzahn era, Auburn has leveled off and emerged as a challenger to Alabama and Georgia for SEC supremacy.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
There's no more talk of a hot seat with coach GUS MALZAHN'S having signed a seven-year, $49 million extension after finishing first in the SEC West last year. But even with the security of a new deal and 14 starters back, Malzahn faces one of his most challenging seasons. The reason? A brutal schedule that ranks as the fourth-toughest in all of college football. Auburn opens with Pac-12 power Washington and in November faces both participants from last year's national championship, on the road—Georgia and Alabama—over 14 days. The Tigers have the talent to contend for a championship—but they don't have much margin for error.
WASHINGTON (4) [KEY MATCHUP][SI RANKINGS]
@ MISSISSIPPI STATE
@ OLE MISS
@ GEORGIA (6) [KEY MATCHUP][SI RANKINGS]
@ ALABAMA (2) [BIGGEST GAME][SI RANKINGS]