Editor’s Note: It’s a crucial year in Auburn. Gus Malzahn enters his fourth season in a bit of a rut, but he has proven he can quickly change the trajectory of the program when his team’s back is against the wall.
Auburn needs to find a quarterback, develop receivers and lean on a defense many expect to be much improved under coordinator Kevin Steele. Will all of the pieces come together in time for a successful season?
SEC Country takes a look at the 25 Most Important Tigers (and others) who will determine whether Auburn’s season is a success or failure.
2. Gus Malzahn, head coach
He had the best first year as Auburn’s head coach since Terry Bowden arrived on the Plains in 1993. An SEC title and falling only 13 seconds short of a national championship marked the biggest turnaround in SEC history in 2013, but the Tigers have been on a downward trajectory ever since.
Is that a bad thing? Some fans might think it, but the truth is this: Malzahn’s rebuilding project was really beginning in 2014. Depth on defense was a big issue and the receiver spots were still not squared away outside of two players. Meanwhile, his quarterback of the future (Jeremy Johnson) did not live up to the preseason hype in 2015, pushing the Tigers further off Malzahn’s path of success.
Malzahn’s seat is not as hot as some might think, but the fact remains the Tigers need to win some big games this season to keep Jordan-Hare Stadium filled on Saturdays. Considering Auburn has lost nine of its last 11 SEC games and failed to win a conference game at home last season, fans are already starting to wonder about the future.
This is the biggest season of Malzahn’s career and though we’re only entering the fourth year, the coach is doing everything he can to turn things around by making big changes. There are five new members on the staff, but the biggest change is a philosophical one for Malzahn, who seemed to get caught up in the off-the-field matters rather than focusing on coaching last season.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to be a head coach in our league and at my core I’m a football coach,” Malzahn said in May. “That’s what I do best and so sometimes you can get distracted with other things and I think the easiest way to answer that is I’m not going to be distracted with the other things when the season gets here. And I’m going to coach football.”
Simply put, expect Malzahn to go back to his roots as an offensive coordinator as he tries to turn around a program — and an offense — that was taking on water in 2015.
Coming Friday: An all-out battle
- No. 25 — Josh Holsey, cornerback/safety
- No. 24 — Leonard Fournette, LSU running back
- No. 23 — Rudy Ford, safety
- No. 22 — Chandler Cox, H-Back
- No. 21 — Paul James III, defensive end
- No. 20 — Kamryn Pettway, H-Back
- No. 19 — Kirby Smart, Georgia coach
- No. 18 — Austin Golson, offensive tackle
- No. 17 — Marlon Davidson, defensive end
- No. 16 — Carlton Davis, cornerback
- No. 15 — T.J. Neal, linebacker
- No. 14 — Tre’ Williams, linebacker
- No. 13 — Nick Saban, Alabama coach
- No. 12 — Eli Stove, receiver
- No. 11 — Jason Smith, receiver
- No. 10 — Marcus Davis, receiver
- No. 9 — Kyle Davis, receiver
- No. 8 — Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator
- No. 7 — Montravius Adams, defensive tackle
- No. 6 — Xavier Dampeer, center
- No. 5 — Jovon Robinson, running back
- No. 4 — Nate Craig-Myers, receiver
- No. 3 — Carl Lawson, defensive end