Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Auburn Realist: Waaaay to Early Predictions for 2014 Part 1

The Auburn Realist

You can find links to all of my Auburn Realist Blog posts here.
The Auburn Realist: Overview

Make sure to read my other predictions:
Waaaayyy to Early Predictions Part 2
Waaaayyy to Early Predictions Part 3
Waaaayyy to Early Predictions: The Iron Bowl

Everyone else is doing it. So that makes it ok for me, right? Heck, everyone already has an opinion on it and I know yall were just *DYING* to hear mine. So, the wait is over. 

Now, if you want a simple record, an opinion on the last game of the season, or to hear how Auburn and/or Alabama will loose them all/win them all....go listen to the Finebaum show. That show has coined the term ad nauseam. No, seriously, the state had never heard this term until he used it, and at no point has it become more applicable than with the discussion of next year. I ain't faulting him, though. The man's ratings sore as he same people call every day and give the jury the same business. Let me sum it up: Cowherd says Auburn will be a thorn in Bama's side. Phyllis says he's a moron. And everyone is on one side or the other. Believe it or not, there are 11 other games preceding the Mother of all rematches of the Mother of all Iron Bowls. And, on that note, I will trademark that statement. We will be hearing that statement a lot. Just remember: "You heard it here first, folks!" 

Doing the whole season, or even half, takes too long to write. And I know I can't keep yalls attention that long. So, let's walk through the front 1/3rd of the season. 

Sept. 13 ** Open Date **
Sept. 20 at Kansas State Manhattan, KS
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State Starkville, MS
Oct. 18 ** Open Date **
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss Oxford, MS
Nov. 15 at Georgia Athens, GA
Nov. 29 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 

August 30th will feature an SEC West showdown that will command a lot of headlines. It will get a premo air time spot. I can't ever remember an opening game that featured an inner-conference showdown. It will be special, but it won't be a game. I expect this game to be over quick, and I don't mean because one team will run the other out of the building. I expect Marshall, despite having a whole year to blossom under the system, to show some nerves under the heavy burden of expectations. Many people across the country will expect Marshall to come out slinging the rock, but up 300 yards of passing and another 100 yards of rushing. The country already sees Marshall as a Heisman contender and he will appear on everyone's early season watch. But, he won't put up the big numbers. In fact, expect the running back stable to see a very heavy load. I expect that we will see CAP, Grant, Barber, and perhaps Thomas share upwards of 50-60 carries. Why do I say that? Especially with the expectations of Marshall and the Hogs weak secondary? I'm glad you asked. The Hogs defensive strength is up front. Combined with Marshall's nerves, sitting in the pocket  is a recipe for disaster on National TV to try and settle in a team. By using Auburn's premier (yes, premier..even without Robinson) offensive line, you eliminate the speed off the edge, the threat of sacks and fumbles, and especially rushed throws that end in INTs. Dismukes and company will pound the ball with a constantly rotating set of backs as we saw late last season. In addition to protecting Marshall and running the clock at a furious pace, this will allow Auburn to identify a lead back earlier than last season, particularly important when heading into Manhattan, KS two weeks later....a team that has demonstrated the ability to fiend fantastic defenses who pride themselves on takeaways. The individual stats won't be impressive on offense, but the team stat that will WOW....rushing by team. Expect 500 yards of rushing.  Defensively, Auburn has the bad medicine for the Hogs offense, who have been a formidable rushing team and not much else. Despite losing Ford and several support players, Auburn will not only reload, but be even more dominate, featuring a front 4 that will turn out to be legendary. Arkansas will be forced to go to the air with a waning clock and a stuffed run. This will lead to a TD or two, but also late game INTs. 
Auburn 35-17

SJST has been a dangerous team in the past. But, Auburn will have tuned up its run game the week earlier and will feature a pass heavy attack against a typical west coast team who cannot field defensive talent. After a quiet week, Marshall and the revamped receiver corp led by Williams and Coates will absolutely explode. I don't know when the last time Auburn had two receivers with 100+ yards, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a 3rd come out of this game. Auburn MUST develop a slot/possession receiver and this is a great game in which to do just that. But, Marshall won't be able to hold back when the two aforementioned guys break open. The question is, who will that slot guy be? with Reed moving to defense, one has to think Bray would step in. But, don't be surprised to see Marcus Davis or Melvin Ray step up. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see either replace Bray, who has had multiple years to breakout. 
Auburn 52-3

Sept. 20 at Kansas State at Manhattan, KS 
This has the makings for a Thursday night thriller that looks like an absolute trap game for Auburn. While the talent isn't up to par, the coaching is top notch for the Cats. Snyder experienced  a major down year in 2013 after a fantastic 2012 campaign. It was tough to loose Klein and it showed as the two QBs who shared time struggled on their way to looses to North Dakota St and 3 straight losses to conference foes. They will also have to replace their top running back in Hubert who rushed for 1,000 yards. But, despite having a great staff, they have lost too much and the home field crowd will be deflated early. I don't think this will be a blow out because I expect Auburn to get sloppy late in the game as they play a lot of new players in their first road game. I think of the last time the two teams played will be very similar, as Auburn could not close them out. Offensively, expect an early run based offense with play action mixed in.In the 3rd, I think we will see an electric Marshall running his offense as we have expected.  Expect a boring offensive 4th quarter. Defensively, I don't see how Auburn would struggle with an offense that has been run heavy in the past but lacks the two legitimate threats. We saw what happened last year with the loss of Klein. Expect a dominate performance up front by Lawson, Owens, Adams and Co. 
Auburn 38-17

LSU at home is looming and it would be easy to pinpoint this over-matched out of conference game as a trap game. However, the late performance from the KSTATE game the previous week will provide Malzahn with the fodder to drum up his troops for a nearly flawless game. This will be a fan favorite game and a stat padder game. Expect Ellis Johnson to be emphasis on his defense to close out a game with pride.  

Take-Aways from the Front 1/3rd
Marshall will be holding on to Heisman watch lists, but only barely. This year's schedule is extremely back heavy and I don't think we will see Malzahn exposing him to the wear and tear of running the option and/or sitting in the pocket. As far as game planning, there is a stigma that Malzahn is a gimmicky coach, but they only ran around 6 different plays last year. Expect to see much of the same in the front 3rd of the season, though I expect the number of  plays to go up for the LSU game. 

We will know who the starting RB will be...but will this player get the 20+ reps a game or share? Really, this hinges on if Malzahn burns Thomas' redshirt. If he doesn't, I believe CAP will be the feature back with Barber being the situational guy. 

Will Williams live up to the hype? I think so. To do it in HS is one thing, but to come from JuCo  is a different beast. I think Williams will entrench himself as a #2 receiver. 

The Auburn defensive line will be the best we have seen in a generation. The upperclassman on the team haven't been featured and largely overlooked. They will be pushed to great lengths during camp by the youngsters. It's the perfect storm for a front 4. 

Expect rapid growth from the defensive secondary. They will look very young at times early, giving up garbage plays to over-matched teams as they are too aggressive and under experienced. 

Will the LBs live up to their billing? With Holland gone, it opens up things for Frost and McKinnsie. Both of these guys were highly touted and have shown growth. Will it carry over? 

The offensive line didn't reload or rebuild. It takes a quantum leap forward. I know that sounds crazy after loosing a first rounder. But these guys are going to be faster and meaner. And they have played together a LOT. It's going to be more pancake happier than IHOP on new years day.