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.
13. Nick Saban, Alabama coach
The man has engineered two straight victories against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and a third could deal a big blow to the Tigers’ program.
Nick Saban has won five national championships, including four at Alabama, and has knocked off Auburn in six of the last eight Iron Bowls. Auburn hasn’t defeated rivals Georgia and Alabama since its miracle run to the SEC title in 2013, when the Prayer at Jordan-Hare touchdown throw to Ricardo Louis knocked off the Bulldogs and the Kick Six deflated the Tide. Can Gus Malzahn afford a combined 2-6 record against his rivals through four seasons? Will fans accept a 1-3 mark against Saban and the Tide?
Saban’s power is his ability to not only recruit and develop the best players, but to adapt with the times. His hiring of Lane Kiffin brought in a more powerful offense, leading to 84 combined points against the Tigers in the last meetings. Alabama gets Auburn back in Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tigers are 7-3 but have lost three of the last four in Tuscaloosa.
Fair or not, Auburn and Alabama will always be compared to each other in arguably the greatest rivalry in college football. The winner of the last seven Iron Bowl games have advanced to the BCS title game or the College Football Playoff. Simply put, if Auburn wins, it’s because the Tigers are playing for a championship near the end of the season. Beating Saban, in his home stadium, will be a monumental task (Auburn is already a double-digit underdog, according to some oddsmakers) but doing so would mean a special season for the Tigers.
A third straight loss could signify a turn in the series and more pressure on Malzahn and the Auburn administration.
Coming Wednesday: Now we’re cookin’
- 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