AUBURN, Ala. — It’s become an annual tradition for the college football media in the digital age. As soon as the clock hits all zeroes at the national championship game, it’s time to shoot out the 25 best teams for the next season. And Auburn football is playing a big part in 2017 projections.
Auburn returns a majority of its starters from its 2016 season, which included a 6-game winning streak and a run into the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. Even though the Tigers lost three of their final four games, the national media are high on Auburn’s chances in 2017.
A lot of that has to do with the arrival of former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham and the resurgence of the Auburn defense in 2016 under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele.
Here is where Auburn football is projected in the way-too-early Top 25 college football rankings for several of the sport’s biggest media outlets and what the experts are saying about Gus Malzahn’s team in 2017.
SEC Country: 7
“The Jarett Stidham Era is set to begin, and he’s going to get plenty of help from the Tigers’ elite running back duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. Auburn has enough overall talent to give Alabama a serious challenge if Stidham — a Baylor transfer — can find his footing in the SEC.”
Fox Sports: 10
“The Tigers could see significant improvement in 2017 thanks to Baylor transfer QB Jarrett Stidham’s arrival and stud RB Kamryn Pettway’s return. Stidham fills a two-year QB void for coach Gus Malzahn. Freshman WR Eli Stove emerged as a playmaker as well. Standout DE Carl Lawson turned pro, but the Tigers could still bring back eight defensive starters, including budding freshman DE Marlon Davidson.”
2017 Early Top 25: Alabama, Ohio State not going away. Auburn, Georgia on the way up. Rebuild year for Michigan. https://t.co/aqCD7BpRQk
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 10, 2017
“The Tigers had an up-and-down campaign in 2016, but they still managed to win eight games and reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl. However, Auburn’s offense was a mess at times, and its 12 touchdown passes bettered only Vanderbilt in the SEC. Incoming Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns for the Bears in 2015, might bring more punch and stability to the offense. Tailbacks Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are returning, but the Tigers will have holes to fill on their offensive line, although Braden Smith’s decision to return is a welcome boost.”
NBC Sports: 12
“Auburn faces a trip to Death Valley to take on Clemson in the second week of the season, which will either leave the team with ground to make up, or put the Tigers in huge credit. They are likely to be doing so with a new starter under center, transfer QB Jarrett Stidham from Baylor, an excellent fit for the Tigers offense. Stidham impressed when earning a 73.4 as a true freshman in 2015, with much of his playing time coming in mop-up duty. The Tigers lose their best pass-rushers and need to find immediate replacements if they are to challenge, but the offense could be very good.”
SB Nation: 13
The Big Lead: 13
“Auburn was formidable when they had healthy, stable quarterback play and was feeble when they did not. If the Tigers can get that in 2017, there’s a strong core coming back. Johnson and Pettway return in the backfield. Three of Auburn’s top four receivers were freshmen last year and should improve. The Tigers lose Carl Lawson, but keep most of their strong defense. This team needs a few tweaks, not an overhaul.”
“Quarterback transfer Jarrett Stidham, formerly of Baylor, is immediately eligible and he’ll get help on the ground from the Tigers’ running back duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.”
Athlon Sports: 14
“Coach Gus Malzahn needs more out of the passing attack in 2017 and landed a potential All-SEC quarterback in Jarrett Stidham. After one year at Baylor, Stidham left the program and spent 2016 out of football at a junior college. Stidham has a promising group of receivers to target on the outside, and the one-two punch of Pettway and Kerryon Johnson should be one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Two starters depart from a standout line, but center Austin Golson and guard Braden Smith are back. A couple of key cogs are gone on defense, but coordinator Kevin Steele has plenty of talent to rebuild in 2017. … After a solid freshman season, Marlon Davidson will help to anchor the trenches in 2017, and cornerback Carlton Davis is poised to rank among the SEC’s top defensive backs.”
Campus Insiders: 15
CBS Sports: 18
“The addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham makes Gus Malzahn’s spread power run attack lethal. If holes can be filled on the defensive line, the Tigers could be back to contending in the SEC West.”
Sporting News: 19
“We’ll find out if Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham can compete for the starting job, but the tandem of running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson should continue making big plays for the Tigers.”