Gus Malzahn says he has his best defense he’s had at Auburn in the 6 years he’s been at the helm. He thinks this could be the best team he’s had at Auburn. That’s if the quarterback comes through.
On defense, it starts up front with seniors Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe. Davidson and Brown are 300+ pounders and Coe is 260 and is a pass rushing savant. Brown, whom Malzahn said will be a first round draft pick in 2020, posted 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks in 2018. Davidson added 2 1/2 sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for loss. Coe finished the year with 13 1/2 TFLs and 7 sacks. This is a formidable group and one SEC offensive lines are going to have nightmares going up against .There is depth behind that trio as well. Auburn lost 4 linebackers off of last year’s team, but Malzahn is high on the group they have coming back led by K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten. The secondary looks strong with Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson returning at safeties and Javaris Davis back at corner. Kevin Steele has a lot of talent to work with and the 2019 recruiting class was the 11th ranked class in the country with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. Anders Carlson returns to kick. He struggled some last season in his first year, but has the genes with his brother Daniel being a prolific kicker for the Tigers just a few years back. Punter is Arryn Siposs from Australia. Malzahn likes him as well. Return game looks fine with explosive Noah Igbinoghene returning kicks and the dynamic Anthony Schwartz returning punts. Schwartz is one of the fastest players in the country and Malzahn called him “just a football player.”
Quarterback is the really interesting position at Auburn. Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood, out of Florida, a high 4 star, and true freshman Bo Nix, a 5 star, are 2 obviously talented players. It’ll be a battle for the job, but both have powerful arms, Gatewood has really good wheels, and Nix’s are pretty decent, and they’re both good leaders according to Malzahn. So it’ll be a major competition coming up in fall camp. Gatewood had an excellent spring game and Nix did some good things as well. As most coaches say, Malzahn wants to know who’ll run the offense best and inspire confidence in his teammates.
Boobie Whitlow, Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers return at running back. Whitlow ran for 787 yards and 6 TDs and was hurt some last year. He’s a real talent. I like both Martin and Shivers too. They’re not big guys, but both are tough and have excellent speed.
The wide receiver position is well manned with Schwartz, who caught 22 passes for 357 yards and 2 TDs and ran for 5 more, electric sophomore Seth Williams, who caught 26 passes for 534 yards and 6 touchdowns, and veterans Eli Stove and Will Hastings, who are both back from injury. They all look like NFL receivers and there is depth.
The offensive line, very importantly, returns all 5 starters and all are seniors. Left tackle Prince Wanogho is a stud. This should be really good news for the Tigers as they had trouble protecting Jarrett Stidham last year. So Gus feels really good about his guys up front on both sides of the ball. There is size, physicality and depth. What you need.
Auburn finished 8-5 last year and 3-5 in the SEC and that’s not good enough at Auburn. Malzahn knows that. He says Auburn wants to win championships and he understands the hot seat pressure that comes with a struggling season. He likes this team a lot though and thinks they can be special. The Tigers open up with Oregon at AT&T Stadium in the Advocare Classic in Arlington, TX on Saturday, August 31st. Quite an opener for the Tigers. Oregon has one of the top quarterbacks in the country returning in Justin Herbert and Coach Mario Cristobal had a top 10 recruiting class in 2019 and has brought back some excellent players. They’re picked to win the PAC-12 and will be quite a challenge for the Tigers. I know Auburn fans can’t emphasize enough how important that opening game is. The game will kickoff at 6:30 PM CT and be televised by ABC. After Tulane and Kent State at home, the Tigers go to A&M on Saturday, Sept. 21st for another massive tilt. Then Mississippi State at home, Saturday, Sept. 28th, another war, then @ Florida, Saturday, Oct. 5th, wow. Then the Tigers have an open date, then @ Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 19th. The following week, Oct. 26th, the Tigers are @ LSU. Another whammy. Then Ole Miss at home, Saturday, 11-2, Open date, Georgia at home Saturday, Nov. 16th, Samford Nov. 23rd at home, then the Iron Bowl, Saturday, Nov. 30th.
What’ll it take for the Tigers to get to Atlanta. They’ve got a brutal schedule but are loaded with talent. Oregon, @ A&M, State at home, @ Florida @ LSU, Georgia and Alabama at home. With that kind of a schedule you just have to look at week 1 and try to win that one and go from there. it’s daunting, but I like this team if Gatewood or Nix comes through.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Derek Mason was as usual positive, optimistic and charismatic at media days. He likes his team. They have a three man arsenal on offense with running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for 1,244 yards and 12 TDs last season and is as dynamic a running back as you’ll find in the country. Wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb caught 87 passes for 918 yards and 9 TDs last season. And tight end Jared Pinkney caught 50 passes for 774 yards and 7 TDs. They all came back for their senior years because they wanted to get their degrees, help their team get to another bowl game this season and win it, and improve their draft stock. Three very electric, explosive players. There is talent out wide along with Lipscomb too. The quarterback and the offensive line could be question marks. Deuce Wallace and Riley Neal will battle it out to start under center. Wallace has experience and can run it as well as throw it and Neal, a transfer from Ball State, threw for 7,393 yards there and 46 TDs and ran for 15 more in 4 years at Ball State.. Whoever starts will have talent around him, who he just needs to get the ball to. Backfield depth could be an issue. Vaughn needs to stay as healthy as he can.
The offensive line has some talent up front, with size and physicality, so if they can produce that would really help this offense.
On defense, Mason feels like he has the best defensive front he’s had, linebacker is good at starter, but needs to develop depth and secondary looks pretty strong.
Vanderbilt opens at home with Georgia on Saturday, August 31st at 6:30 PM CT on the SEC Network. Tough one to start the season, but Mason is optimistic about it. He and Kirby Smart are close friends. Mason said Smart is like a “brother” to him. Then the Dores are @Purdue at 11 AM CT, Saturday, Sept.7th on the Big Ten Network. Then an off week, then O and the Bengal Tigers of LSU come to Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21st. Key games are @ Ole Miss, Saturday, Oct.5th, Missouri at home, Saturday, Oct. 19th, @ South Carolina, Saturday, Nov. 2nd, @ Florida Saturday, Nov. 9th and @ Tennessee , Saturday, Nov. 30th.
It’s tough, but all the schedules are tough in this conference. Mason embraces it. He is just such a positive guy, and his players love him and would climb the Himalayas for him. That’s a powerful thing. It’s hard at Vanderbilt, but they certainly have the right man for the job who is building a quality program.
Kentucky, Mark Stoops
Mark Stoops put together an awesome 2018 campaign taking his Wildcats to a 10-3 record, defeating Florida for the first time in forever, close to 40 years, and defeating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, 27-24. It was the first 10 win season for Kentucky since 1977. Stoops has recruited well and really coached his players up.
Terry Wilson returns at quarterback. He completed 180 of 268 passes, 67% for 1,889 yards, 11 TDs but 8 interceptions. He’s a good runner as he rushed for 547 yards and 4 TDs. But he will be challenged at quarterback by Troy transfer Sawyer Smith, who has 2 years left to play, and completed 62% of his passes for 1,669 yards 14 TDs against 6 ints in leading the awesome Troy team last year to a 10-3 record and a 42-32 victory over Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile. Their coach, Neal Brown, landed the job at West Virginia after the season when Dana Holgerson left Morgantown to coach the University of Houston, so Smith needed another spot. That’ll be a really interesting competition. Wilson has accuracy issues, so I like Smith better.
Benny Snell was an all world tailback for Kentucky for 3 years. He rushed for a conference leading 1,449 yards and added 16 TDs. He’s in the NFL, but A. J. Rose is a promising replacement. who ran for 442 yards and 5 TDs last season and Stoops likes his depth there. Wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. caught 67 passes for 745 yards and 5 TDs. He’ll be the leader of a receiving corps that Stoops likes.
The offensive line has great size, and Stoops feels very good about them as well.
The defense returns only 4 starters, but the emotional and talented linebacker Kash Daniel returns. He’ll be the leader on defense after posting 84 tackles last year with 7 for loss. Stoops likes his guys up front and in the secondary. He’s got some younger players on defense, so they’ll need to grow up quickly.
Kentucky’s first big game is Florida at home Saturday, Sept,. 14th, then they travel to Mississippi State to play the Bullies Saturday, Sept, 21st. Then they’re @ South Carolina, Saturday, Sept. 28th. After an off week, the Cats play Arkansas at home, Sat, 10-12. Then it’s @ Georgia, Sat. 10-19, Missouri at home Sat. 10-28, open date, then a big one at home versus Tennessee, Sat. 11-9. @Vanderbilt, Saturday, 11-16. After a home game against UT Martin, 11-23, The Cats host Louisville Saturday, 11-30, and the Cardinals new coach Scott Satterfield, who had so much success at App State the last several years.
Stoops liked the 10 wins but wants more. He’s recruited well, and Kentucky football is on the rise. Stoops has done an excellent job, and they should be a highly competitive team this season if their quarterback comes through and their young defense plays well as quickly as possible.