AUBURN, Ala. — This week’s edition of the mailbag has its sights set everywhere when it comes to Auburn football — the future, the past and, of course, the Tigers’ present matchup against Ole Miss.
Readers asked about the future of Auburn’s quarterback position for the 2017 season, a comparison to one of the best Tigers teams of all-time, and a current status for both the football team’s ground game and the basketball team’s overall potential.
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@L_Crosby: Next year’s QB: Sean White, barring some sort of epic collapse to end the season? How does depth chart shake out?
@justme277: Who is going to be Auburn’s QB next year? White? Barrett? Stidham?
I’ve gotten a variation of this question twice over the last week, so it’s definitely worth leading off this week’s mailbag.
White has performed above even the highest expectations placed on him heading into the season. Even after a so-so performance against Arkansas in which he only attempted 11 passes, White still leads the SEC in quarterback rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt. He’s not a Nick Marshall type in a run-heavy offense, but he’s smart with his decision-making and can do just enough to hurt defenses with his legs.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine White returning in 2017 and losing his starting job. John Franklin III could challenge for the No. 1 spot again after improving more as a passer, but it’ll be tough to shake White after what he’s put on the field this season. I think you’d see Franklin develop into more of a package player for Auburn as Woody Barrett gets more work as a redshirt freshman backup.
The Jarrett Stidham question is an intriguing one, as the Baylor transfer is continuing to be recruited by Auburn. He immediately would create a major competition with White for the starting job in the spring of 2017 if he comes to the Plains. If former Baylor coach Art Briles gets a job anywhere this offseason — and that’s not a sure thing right now — Stidham most likely would follow him.
As it currently stands, I’d bank on White returning as the starting quarterback in 2017 unless Auburn’s offense craters during the final few games of the season. Auburn is moving the ball well with him, and he’s as efficient as it gets through the air. Rhett Lashlee has done a great job of building this attack around his strengths.
@Timothy_Mathis: Who should get the bulk of Auburn’s carries Saturday against Ole Miss?
It has to be Kamryn Pettway. He’s had the two best performances of his career with Kerryon Johnson out, and he’s outperforming the former starter in almost every rushing category. Auburn needs to ride the hot hand and keep giving the ball to Pettway.
Johnson’s return will be a boost for Auburn’s rushing attack, as it will give the Tigers another established runner to attack a woeful Ole Miss run defense. The coaching staff looked at Pettway and Johnson as 1A and 1B during the first month of the season, and that should stand true Saturday. They can rotate and not give the Rebels a moment’s rest on defense.
Auburn will want to be a little more careful with Johnson, especially with him coming off an ankle injury that kept him out of virtually two entire games and an off week. Pettway has proven he can take the majority of the carries and keep rolling.
Together, they should be a strong force against the Rebels. I’d assume the split will be close to 50-50 if Johnson is 100 percent, but give me Pettway getting the slight majority.
Deshaun Harris, via Facebook: Is this Auburn defense better than the 2010 championship team?
Deshaun asked this question late in our Facebook Live chat Tuesday after Malzahn’s weekly press conference, and it caused me to dig into the numbers more. Auburn’s 2016 defense is on pace to be the best defense the program has had since Tommy Tuberville roamed the sidelines, and his last game was in 2008.
But exactly how good was that 2010 defense, led by the likes of Nick Fairley and Josh Bynes? The prevailing thought is that it did just enough to keep opponents at bay for most of the regular season as Cam Newton put plenty of points on the board. But there were a few games in 2010 — Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama and Oregon — that called for a great defense.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the 2010 Auburn defense to the 2016 Auburn defense:
|CATEGORY||2010 AUBURN||2016 AUBURN|
|Points per game||24.1||14.1|
|Yards allowed per play||5.4||4.8|
|Rushing yards allowed per game||109.1||129.7|
|Passing yards allowed per game||259.3||198.3|
|Opponent 3rd-down conversions||36.96%||29.91%|
|Opponent red-zone touchdown percentage||60.00%||36.36%|
So, Auburn has a much better defense overall in 2016 than it did in 2010, especially when it comes to shutting down opposing passing attacks. But those national championship-winning Tigers did a better job of stopping the run. A team that can prevent others from running the ball usually goes a long way, as Auburn proved in 2010.
@guitarist1984: If AU wins out (beating Bama & winning SEC title) and makes the CFP, would the committee take Bama also at 11-1?
It’s an interesting thought experiment. So if Auburn wins out — and gets a little help from someone beating Texas A&M to get rid of any pesky 3-way tiebreakers — it definitely would be a playoff-caliber team. The two losses were tough but not embarrassing, and the Tigers would be the hottest team in the country at 11-2.
At first glance, I would expect Alabama to get in at 11-1 as well. The Crimson Tide would have looked like the best team in college football for almost the entire season, and one loss to an SEC champion wouldn’t look bad at all.
If that happens, though, the committee would have to shut out two Power 5 conferences in favor of getting two SEC teams into the bracket. It would be virtually impossible to shut out an undefeated Clemson, Washington or Michigan from the final four. So if those teams win out, Alabama theoretically would be on the outside.
The fun really begins when you look at a 1-loss Alabama up against 1-loss conference champions. Would a home loss to Auburn look better than Ohio State’s road loss to Penn State? What about Louisville’s road loss to Clemson? Those are some extremely tough calls.
I would say both Auburn and Alabama would deserve to get into the playoff in this scenario, but shutting out two conference champions could set a dangerous precedent. If anything, it would increase the clamor for a bigger field in future playoffs.
@DanInNC_Ohrly21: What is the ceiling for AU hoops this year?
Let’s finish with some hoops talk. This Auburn basketball team in Bruce Pearl’s third season should be entertaining and all kinds of intriguing. There’s athleticism all over the floor in players such as Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, T.J. Dunans, Jared Harper and even underrated true freshman Anfernee McLemore. Auburn is going to play extremely fast and take advantage of its shooters.
This team is also going to be in some bad matchups against teams with size. Whenever your tallest scholarship players are 6-foot-8, rebounding and interior defense will be uphill battles. Auburn’s style will try to take them out of those rough situations, but they aren’t completely unavoidable.
The good news for Auburn is that the SEC looks wide open for the most part outside of Kentucky. I’m voting in the Associated Press Top 25 this year for basketball, and the Wildcats are the only SEC representative on my initial ballot. There are tiers in the league, and Auburn was picked to finish in the bottom half, but there’s a lot of room to climb in the standings.
Auburn’s tougher nonconference schedule will prepare this young team for the rigors of SEC play. These Tigers showed last season they have what it takes to win a few games they’re not supposed to win. Put those notions together with an exciting brand of basketball in a league that looks like a free-for-all under John Calipari’s team, and there’s a high ceiling.
Personally, I think success for Auburn would be to land firmly in the NIT and set itself up for major success in 2017-18 with another star-studded recruiting class joining its current underclassmen stars. Competing for an NCAA Tournament bid this season might be out of reach — no pun intended — but there aren’t many teams in the conference that will be automatically better than Auburn.