Auburn football: Keep your eyes on these Tigers heading into season
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What players are you most excited to watch during the 2018 season?
Michael D. — Facebook
AUBURN, Ala. — I’ve previously written about Gus Malzahn sitting in front of a microphone after Auburn’s Peach Bowl loss. My take was that the coach’s optimism wasn’t misplaced.
There is a lot for the Tigers to be excited about as they prepare for the coming season: Auburn is returning countless starters who know what it takes to win. Coaches are settled in after at least one year in charge. Malzahn’s contract extension offers some stability, which is attractive to recruits — and his staff has been taking advantage of that, as demonstrated by its recent commitments.
At the end of the day, however, college football isn’t about the fanfare or even the rivalries. It’s about the players who dedicate almost every second of their lives (for at least three to four years) to a head coach, a program and a fan base.
Every player on the Auburn roster matters. The Tigers have learned that lesson through injuries sustained in recent seasons, especially. Yet there are some players who are perhaps more intriguing than others. These are just a few of the must-watch players for Auburn fans as the 2018 season nears.
It’s the obvious choice, right? Jarrett Stidham will be Auburn’s first returning 3,000-yard passer, and he will be under major scrutiny. The SEC knows what he’s capable of now, and he’s solidified his spot as the leader of the Tigers.
Stidham’s first season was exceptional, even with a couple of rough games and tough losses to endure. In 2018, he’s going to be seen as one of the best players in the conference, rather than an unknown.
A year can make a big difference, though. Stidham knows the system, and now it’s time for him to really let loose. Part of that depends on the coaching staff, but part of it is also Stidham’s attitude. (I previously said I’d like to see him take on more of a Baker Mayfield-esque attitude). He’s got a chance to be that hard-working, feisty, sombrero-wearing figure while leading Auburn to the top of the conference.
Playing one position is hard enough at the Division I level, but playing three? Noah Igbinoghene went from reserve receiver to likely starting defensive back in what seemed like a few days and Auburn still seems to be deciding exactly how it’ll use him in ’18.
Igbinoghene is special and has quickly earned the approval of coaches and teammates. He should play a crucial role for Auburn defensively during his sophomore season, and he could be a candidate to unleash some surprises on unsuspecting opponents either offensively or as a returner.
Before injuries to Eli Stove and Will Hastings, freshman Shedrick Jackson might not have made this list. However, two of Auburn’s experienced receivers sustained knee injuries this spring, and that should give Jackson a chance to emerge.
Jackson probably has more realistic expectations of what college football is like than any other newcomer. He’s strong, athletic and capable. Oh, and determined. Jackson enters the program hoping to construct a memorable career at a position that doesn’t have nearly as much history as it should. He’s got a chance to prove he can be a go-to guy for Stidham in the fall, and if he is successful at all, it will be so fun to watch the fan base rally around him.