HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn football will wrap up the ballroom blitz that is SEC Media Days on Thursday. It’ll be Gus Malzahn’s fifth time to take the main stage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the same old song and dance from the Tigers.
Auburn might arrive at the annual event as the media’s pick to come the closest to competing with Alabama for the SEC title. The Tigers won’t have the same amount of hype they did in 2015, when they were picked to win it all and tied for last in the division.
But the offseason has brought a lot of change to the Plains. Malzahn has a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and a new attack plan when it comes to running his team. He’ll bring three seniors who have been through the ups and downs at Auburn — ones who have seen what the Tigers are capable of doing under their head coach.
Here’s a preview of what to expect from Auburn’s time in front of the microphones and the cameras.
Auburn football at SEC Media Days: Time, TV information
Malzahn will kick things off at 11:05 a.m. ET on SEC Network with his appearance in the main room, followed by kicker Daniel Carlson, safety Tray Matthews and offensive tackle Braden Smith.
Malzahn will appear on the SEC Network again at 1:05 p.m. ET. Matthews will appear on the SEC Network at 11:35 a.m. ET, followed by Smith at 11:45 a.m. ET and Carlson at 12:55 p.m. ET.
- Expectations for 2017: Auburn should be a popular pick — if not the pick — for the SEC team most likely to challenge Alabama for the SEC title. Malzahn sounded extra-confident throughout the spring about his team and what he has in place for the 2017 season. He’ll need to improve on an up-and-down 8-5 season in order to keep his job security intact. So what is he expecting out of the Tigers this fall? It’s time to see what Malzahn really thinks of his team.
- Jarrett Stidham mania: Jarrett Stidham isn’t in Hoover, and he hasn’t been named the starting quarterback for Auburn yet. However, he’ll be the biggest name during Auburn’s time at media days. His arrival could make Auburn into stronger contenders for 2017. While Malzahn won’t name Stidham the starting quarterback Thursday, he’ll have to face a lot of questions about the former Baylor quarterback.
- The Alabama question: Several coaches in the conference already got the question lobbed at them on Monday and Tuesday — what will it take to take down Alabama? Auburn was the last team to keep the Crimson Tide from winning an SEC title, and it happened in Malzahn’s first season. Malzahn will be able to give an insight to this question that Kirby Smart and Jim McElwain just don’t have.
- The Chip Lindsey effect: Malzahn experienced a massive offseason change when Rhett Lashlee left for UConn. He brought in former support staff member Chip Lindsey, who he gave complete control of the offense. Lindsey was hired to revamp Auburn’s passing attack, which coincides perfectly with Stidham’s arrival. How has Malzahn seen that influence grow during the summer months? It’s time for an update on a potentially season-making aspect of the Tigers.
- Personnel updates: With a few weeks to go before the start of fall camp, Malzahn usually takes time on media days to update the status of any players. These updates normally include any medical redshirts and late-arriving players. True freshman safety Carlito Gonzalez was in Auburn’s media guide without a number. Is he settled on campus yet? Malzahn will answer those personnel questions and more Thursday.
- The lone special teams representative: Carlson is the only special teams player at SEC Media Days. It’s a deserved honor — Carlson is the best kicker in college football, and he’s a fourth-year starter for the Tigers. Auburn places a high value on its special teams game. Carlson is living proof of that. He’ll face questions about being the lone representative from an aspect of the game that often gets overlooked by the casual fan.
- Getting the younger Carlson ready: Carlson’s younger brother Anders — his heir apparent to the starting kicker job in 2018 — is now on campus as a true freshman. How does Carlson like having his younger brother on the team, and how much is he looking forward to training with him this fall? The younger Carlson might get a chance to punt as well, which is something Daniel experienced as a true freshman.
- About that ring: Carlson started his week with something infinitely more important than anything he’ll experience in Hoover — or the rest of the season, for that matter. Carlson got engaged to his girlfriend on Sunday. He’ll definitely face some good-natured questions about the big day when he takes the stage Thursday.
- The state of the Auburn secondary: While the Tigers return three seniors at safety, Auburn lost two key starters in the secondary from last season in cornerback Josh Holsey and nickel back Rudy Ford. Holsey has boldly said Auburn would have the best defensive backfield in college football in 2017. But with another new position coach and some new blood in the starting lineup, how does Matthews see the Tigers shaking out in pass defense?
- Following up a strong 2016 on defense: That question could be extended to the entire defense in 2017. Auburn exceeded expectations on the defensive side of the ball in 2016 under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele. Auburn returns a lot from that unit, especially at linebacker and safety, but there are some key pieces to replace up front and on the outside. How can the Tigers avoid a slump on that side of the ball? Find out from a senior leader.
- A long journey to Hoover: Making it to SEC Media Days as a player representative has been quite a journey in the making for Matthews. He started his career at Georgia, where he was dismissed from the team. Matthews found his footing at Auburn, where he’s become a multi-year starter for the Tigers. Now he’s representing the school at SEC Media Days. Thursday should be a great time for reflection for the Auburn safety.
- New faces on the offensive line: Auburn has one of the most experienced offensive lines in college football with Smith, but the summer brought some important new blood to the group. The Tigers added graduate transfers Wilson Bell and Casey Dunn this summer, along with former 5-star tackle Calvin Ashley and in-state star Austin Troxell. Look out for an update on their progress in their early days on the Plains.
- Getting used to the new position: Smith made a move from right guard to right tackle this spring. It’s a position he’ll most likely play at the next level, and it’ll be an important part of Auburn’s transition to a more balanced offense. Smith has played right tackle some at Auburn, but this is his first time being there full-time. How is he adjusting to a new position in his final year?
- All this spotlight: Smith is one of the most low-key players on the Auburn roster. When he talks to the media, his answers are usually short and concise. That’s not too strange for an offensive lineman, but Smith takes it to another level. So how will he handle the constant questions in the circus that is SEC Media Days? We’ll keep an eye on how the big Kansas native handles it all.