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Auburn Football: Offseason Outlook For The Tigers

Auburn finished the 2020 season with a 6-5 record, but considering the Arkansas and Ole Miss games could’ve been losses, things could actually have been worse on The Plains. Still, one game over .500 after dropping three of the last four was the nail in the coffin for Gus Malzahn.

Now he’s off to Orlando to become the head coach at UFC, while Auburn has brought in Bryan Harsin from Boise State. It was a shocking hire at first glance, but the more people have looked at it, the more promising it looks.

So what can fans expect from Harsin and company in Year 1?

OutKick has been going through and breaking down the offseason outlooks for all 14 SEC teams. So far, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and LSU have been covered. Now it is Auburn’s turn for a deeper dive.

For other offseason outlooks from around the SEC, click here.

Key Losses: WR Seth Williams; WR Anthony Schwartz; WR Eli Stove; RB D.J. Williams; LB K.J. Britt; EDGE Big Kat Bryant; NCB Christian Tutt; S Jamien Sherwood; DT Daquan Newkirk

Key Returning: QB Bo Nix; RB Tank Bigsby; TE JJ Pegues; LG Tashawn Manning; C Nick Brahms; RG Keiondre Jones; RG Brandon Council; RT Brodarius Hamm; DL Colby Wooden; LB Owen Pappoe; LB Zakoby McClain; LB Chandler Wooten; EDGE Derick Hall; CB Roger McCreary; S Smoke Monday; K Anders Carlson

Key Additions: WDE Dylan Brooks (4-star); DT Lee Hunter (4); S Ahmari Harvey (4); DT-QB Demartrius Davis (4); DT Marquis Robinson (4); DE Andrew Leota (TP, NW)

Key Games: at Penn State (Sept. 18); at LSU (Oct. 2); vs. Georgia (Oct. 9); at Arkansas (Oct. 16); vs. Ole Miss (Oct. 30); at Texas A&M (Nov. 6); vs. Alabama (Nov. 27)

Outlook: Harsin might be new to the SEC, but his staff isn’t. The heavy hitters of the group are the coordinators, Mike Bobo and Derek Mason. Throw in respected assistants such as offensive line coach Will Friend, and you’ve got yourself a noteworthy group of coaches.

The offense will obviously be built around second-year phenom Tank Bigsby, who shined as a freshman this past season. He totaled 918 yards (834 rushing, 84 receiving) and five touchdowns in 10 games. He’s the certainty of the group.

But what happens around him?

Bo Nix returns, but will he be the undisputed starter? Maybe, maybe not. And whom will he throw to? There is plenty of talent at wide receiver, but the top three options from last season — Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove — are all gone.

It would have helped if Oklahoma transfer tight end Grant Calcaterra had stuck with his decision, but he made the move to SMU after the coaching change. The offensive line returns every starter from last year — plus experienced depth options — but it wasn’t a great unit. How will they improve under Will Friend in a Harsin-Bobo offense?

The offense is clearly going to take a while. Fans need to be patient, but I believe in Harsin’s capabilities. The defense is a different story, however.

The addition of Mason as the defensive coordinator was huge for the Tigers. There are capable bodies at all three levels, especially at linebacker and in the secondary. Are there some depth issues, especially up front? Sure, but this group should be the biggest contributor to their success in 2021.

The schedule won’t do them any favors either.

Outside of a road trip to take on Penn State, it’s going to be an easy September. From there, things get a little out of hand. Check out this eight-game stretch to close the regular season:

  • at LSU
  • vs. Georgia
  • at Arkansas
  • vs. Ole Miss
  • at Texas A&M
  • vs. Mississippi State
  • at South Carolina
  • vs. Alabama

Even that Mississippi State game could cause issues if things start clicking with Mike Leach’s offense in Starkville. Seven of those eight games are arguably losable, and that doesn’t even include the possibility of a loss to the Nittany Lions.

The moral of the story? Fans need to practice patience. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Tigers finished under .500 this season.

A 6-6 record with a bowl berth should be considered a massive win, but it shouldn’t really be about wins and losses. It should be about the progress the team shows under Harsin. If they’re battling, learning and improving, the future will look very bright.

Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.

Written by Clint Lamb

Clint Lamb is a College Football Writer for OutKick. Managing Editor for Roll Tide Wire. Sports radio host for The Bullpen on 730/103.9 The UMP. Co-host for The 'Bama Beat podcast through The Tuscaloosa News and TideSports.com.

One Comment

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  1. “It was a shocking hire at first glance, but the more people have looked at it, the more promising it looks.” In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends”. For those of us living here in the Mountain West and paying attention, a good consensus would be that the BSU program has declined under Harsin’s tutelage. He’s an excellent OC but his teams seemed to sometimes lack the edge needed in big games. This past season was a great example. BSU was beaten soundly by a very good BYU team. They did make it to the conference championship game but then lost to upstart San Jose State. He benefited initially from Chis Petersen’s recruits but it seemed to decline from there.

    I think the boosters at Auburn are hoping against hope that Harsin is going to be the answer. I believe they will be greatly disappointed.

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