Auburn season awards: Who stepped up in a disappointing season?
Auburn failed to live up to preseason expectations, as it finished the regular season with a 6-6 record. The Tigers began the season as the No. 6 team in the country and were also picked to win the SEC West at SEC Media Days.
It did not take long to realize Auburn would not live up those high projections.
The Tigers’ defense improved as the season progressed, but the team struggled on that side of the ball early under new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The offense was inconsistent all season, as Auburn changed quarterbacks just three games into the season.
However, the theme of this season had to be Auburn ending up on the wrong side of multiple one-possession games. A 6-6 record is not an lofty achievement in any regard, but four of Auburn’s six losses came by one possession.
Auburn wasn’t as good as it was projected to be, but a few more crucial plays could have easily resulted in two to three more wins. As it stands, Auburn will likely finish the season in the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis or Cincinnati.
Here are the season awards for Auburn:
Team MVP: Sophomore running back Peyton Barber
Barber wasn’t expected to dominate the lion’s share of the carries, but Barber’s 226 rushes accounted for 42.6 percent of Auburn’s running plays.
The sophomore was the most consistent running back on the team, playing in all 12 games. Barber eclipsed 100 yards in a game five times and finished the regular season 24 yards short of 1,000. He also led the team with 13 touchdowns.
It was a breakout season for Barber, who came into the season with just 54 career rushing yards on 10 carries.
Defensive MVP: Junior defensive back Johnathan “Rudy” Ford
Ford struggled to begin the season, but the former running back finished with some impressive numbers.
Ford led the team with 113 tackles. He also had two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and a sack.
The junior also showcased his former running back abilities as a member of the kick return team, averaging 28.7 yards on 14 returns.
Best Freshman: Defensive back Carlton Davis
Davis was a pleasant surprise for Tigers fans in his first season on The Plains. After the natural growing pains that many first-year defensive backs encounter, Davis proved to be a reliable option.
The freshman had a team-high three interceptions, and also finished with 45 tackles and eight pass breakups. Davis repeatedly received praise from defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who said he wished he had more players like Davis.
Davis appears to be on track to climb the ranks of the best defensive backs in the country for next season.
Biggest Surprise: Senior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy
Muschamp moved McKinzy from linebacker to the Buck (a hybrid defensive position) after an injury to top pass rusher Carl Lawson. McKinzy had just 3 1/2 sacks in two seasons combined entering this season, but he proved to be effective in his new role.
McKinzy picked up five sacks and 47 tackles (10 tackles for loss) while playing in all 12 games.
Best Play: Jason Smith’s self-tip catch in Iron Bowl
Auburn lost to Alabama 29-13 in the 2015 Iron Bowl, but sophomore wide receiver Jason Smith’s 77-yard touchdown catch will not be soon forgotten.
Smith only caught two passes in the game, but his self-tipped touchdown catch ressurected memories of Ricardo Louis’ “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” reception from the 2013 Auburn-UGA game.
Smith’s spectacular grab saved Auburn from potentially getting shut out of the end zone against the Crimson Tide.
Overall Grade: C-
Ultimately, this season will be seen as a disappointment for Auburn. The offense and defense were never able to click at the same time.
Entering next season, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will be under a lot of pressure to rediscover the explosive offense the Tigers had in previous years. Malzahn must also find the right quarterback to execute his offense. Muschamp will be expected to garner better results if he returns for a second year as the defensive coordinator
Auburn was competitive in the majority of its games this season, but almost was not good enough.