AUBURN, Ala. — The 2017 Auburn football season unofficially kicks off next week, two hours northwest of Jordan-Hare Stadium and in the carpeted gridiron of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
On Wednesday, the SEC revealed who the Tigers will send for this opening kickoff — 2017 SEC Media Days — along with head coach Gus Malzahn.
The trio of players was straightforward. Auburn will bring three seniors, something Malzahn and his predecessors usually do for the annual media event. Offensive tackle Braden Smith, safety Tray Matthews and kicker Daniel Carlson will face the hundreds of media members next Thursday, when Auburn wraps up the event as the final team in the ballrooms.
SEC MEDIA DAYS 2017: Full list of player representatives from each school
Auburn’s selections snapped a streak that dated back to a particularly memorable year on the Plains and provided more than a few raised eyebrows across social media.
Here are the top three takeaways from the player trio joining Malzahn in Hoover next Thursday.
No offensive skill players headed to Hoover
Auburn football won’t have a single offensive skill player headed to Hoover, as Smith and Carlson will represent the Tigers’ offense.
That’s a testament to how much Auburn’s offense will skew younger in the 2017 season. Running back Kamryn Pettway arguably had the best shot of any skill player to make it to Hoover, but he’s only a true junior. The same goes for media-savvy No. 2 running back Kerryon Johnson.
The Tigers’ receiving corps will be led by a swarm of underclassmen, including true sophomores Kyle Davis, Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers. In recent years, Auburn tends to give media days spots to veteran players who are most likely entering their final seasons, which rules out 2017’s top wideouts.
Then there’s the quarterback situation. Jarrett Stidham is the projected starter, but he is a sophomore who hasn’t started a single game for the Tigers. Plus, returning starter Sean White still theoretically has a chance to retain his job this fall. Auburn will want to keep both away from the all-out circus that is media days.
That leaves Auburn with a representative from its veteran offensive line and an elite kicker. The theme for Auburn’s offense in 2017 is youthful potential, and that shines through in its picks for SEC Media Days.
But sending zero skill players to media days is still a rarity for Auburn. The last time it happened came in 2010, when Auburn sent offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Aairon Savage.
Later that fall, a JUCO transfer quarterback helped the Tigers win a championship.
Daniel Carlson gets a well-deserved spot
When the SEC unveiled the list of player representatives Wednesday afternoon, there was some surprised reaction at Auburn sending a kicker.
Auburn is bringing its kicker to SEC Media Days next week
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) July 5, 2017
I’ll see your crazy offseason, NBA, and raise you Auburn taking their kicker to Media Days
— Jack Jorgensen (@JackJorgensen14) July 5, 2017
However, if someone had to guess all 42 player representatives for SEC media days ahead of time, Daniel Carlson should’ve been the easiest lock in the entire conference.
Auburn is bringing its kicker to SEC Media Days.
Counterpoint: Auburn's kicker is really, really good.
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 5, 2017
Carlson is a senior, and he represents Auburn’s best chance at a national individual award this season. He has been a finalist for the title of best kicker in college football for the last two seasons. He also single-footedly gave the Tigers a season-shifting win over LSU last fall.
The Colorado native is undoubtedly one of Auburn’s most valuable players heading into the 2017 season. He’s an All-American candidate who can change games with his power and precision.
Don’t undervalue Carlson just because he’s a kicker. He checks all of Auburn’s boxes for the ideal media days representative.
Tray Matthews: Somewhat surprising but solid pick
Of the seniors on Auburn’s 2017 defense, Tray Matthews was a dark horse for a trip to Hoover. The senior safety led the team in tackles last season and has received some preseason buzz. However, senior linebacker Tre’ Williams seemed like the better fit for this spot.
But the former Georgia Bulldog is headed to SEC Media Days in his final season as an Auburn Tiger. It’s somewhat of a surprise.
Matthews is one of the most outspoken players on Auburn’s defense, which should make for some good quotes out of Hoover next week. He certainly hasn’t shied away from speaking his mind during his Auburn career.
However, there’s no denying Matthews is a team leader for Auburn heading into 2017. New defensive backs coach Greg Brown spoke highly of Matthews’ leadership and trademark emotion during his time with the media this spring.
“Tray Matthews is the lead dog for us,” Brown said. “He’s an established veteran, established leader. All the guys look up to him in the secondary. He’s our guy. Very smart. … Tray is an emotional guy. He’s a tremendous leader for our defense, for our defensive backs. They all look up to him. He’s just a great competitor.”
Matthews has had a long and winding journey to get where he is as a returning starter for the Auburn defense. That makes for strong Media Days pick in the eyes of this beat reporter.