The Auburn football season started slow with a lot of (quarterback) questions. A six-game winning streak turned around things. But a drop at the end of the season ignited some of those early season questions and issues.
But the addition of transfer QB Jarrett Stidham perked up the Auburn fan base again.
It just wouldn’t be an Auburn season without its run of high and low moments. With that in mind, SEC Country asked our Auburn experts — Justin Ferguson, Lauren Shute and Benjamin Wolk — to share their opinions on the season, recruiting and what’s ahead for the Tigers. Follow SEC Country’s Auburn coverage on our Auburn Insiders Facebook page and Twitter page.
Q: With a good idea of what Auburn is losing and what the roster looks like, how many wins do you think the Tigers claim in 2017?
Ferguson: I’m going to go with 10 wins, but I could be persuaded to 11. Auburn addressed its biggest need already by adding a starter-quality quarterback for an offense that returns a lot of talent. Road games at Clemson and LSU won’t be easy, and there’s always Alabama — but this looks like a Top 10 team on paper for sure.
Shute: Auburn has a real chance to compete for an SEC title and playoff spot in 2017 if the Tigers stay healthy. Though they’re losing players like Montravius Adams, Alex Kozan and (probably) Carl Lawson — those guys’ impact on the program has been far more significant than anything that shows up on a stat sheet. They have loads of talent returning. If Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can fix their quarterback debacle and the defense can keep from dropping off, Auburn fans should expect at least a 10-win season.
Wolk: Auburn returns a high percentage of starters, and the 2017 schedule doesn’t present an overload of challenges. I’d expect Auburn to improve ever-so-slightly — call it 9-3.
Q: What was the biggest surprise this season?
Ferguson: Auburn’s linebacker play. The Tigers haven’t had strong linebacker play in a long time, and they entered the season with hardly any experience there. Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams’ breakout play and Tre’ Williams’ further development stood out for a great defense, as this unit didn’t have a bad game all season.
Shute: As a player it’s tough to be your best in every single game, but Kevin Steele’s defense couldn’t have played much better this year. Led by one of the best defensive fronts in the country, the unit gave the Tigers a chance to win arguably every game with the exception of the Iron Bowl (keep in mind the defense was on the field for 40 minutes). Experienced players set the tone, younger players exceeded expectations and as a result the defense was one of the best in the country.
Q: Do you think Jarrett Stidham wins the starting job next season?
Ferguson: Yes. Sean White will give him a tough competition in spring ball, but Jarrett Stidham brings more to the table as a quarterback in this offense with his arm strength and mobility. He played well during his few starts at Baylor and should be the key to unlocking the offense’s potential in 2017.
Shute: Without a doubt. Sean White is one of the toughest players on the roster, but the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Stidham has the size advantage to play in the SEC, and that’s significant. Auburn’s quarterback situation will be under scrutiny starting well, now, but Stidham seems to be the type of player to thrive in the spotlight.
Q: The coolest thing you witnessed at Jordan-Hare Stadium this season?
Ferguson: I’m somewhat going off the beaten path here, but I’ll pick Gary Walker Jr.’s safety against Louisiana-Monroe. The way the entire Auburn sideline celebrated — for a long time — what will be the career highlight for the walk-on defensive end was fun to watch.
Shute: The reaction to a pre-recorded video on Auburn’s jumbotron when Bo Jackson announced Charles Barkley would be getting a statue outside of Auburn Arena. Nearly 88,000 people in the stadium went silent and hung on Jackson’s every word. To see the eminence and impact he still has — and probably always will have — on the Plains is truly mesmerizing. Then to see him nodding in approval as Kamryn Pettway bulldozed Arkansas was something special, too
Wolk: I don’t think I’ve ever seen both teams celebrate the final, clock-expiring play of the Auburn-LSU game. But that’s exactly what happened when officials overruled a last-second LSU touchdown that, in essence, ended the Les Miles era.
Q: The one recruit you expect us to be talking about next fall for Auburn?
Wolk: I’ll save you the standard response of Jarrett Stidham and go with an incoming freshman answer. Chandler Wooten is the most underrated of Auburn’s three linebacker commits, but I’d expect the versatile early enrollee to see some time early in his career.
Q: What recruiting story line are you most interested in between now and National Signing Day?
Wolk: The Aubrey Solomon saga. The defensive linemen from Leesburg, Ga., has named Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Michigan as his leader at one point or another. The Tigers have re-emerged as a late contender.