HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn might have one of the tougher schedules in the entire country in 2016, but the Tigers do have some help early in the schedule: home games.
The Tigers open the season with five straight home games for the first time since 2005. Those games are not necessarily simple, either, with national runner-up Clemson opening the season Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I hope it’s a good thing,” fourth-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “You know, I’m really, really excited that we’re playing at home. You know, our players and our coaches and I know our fans are excited. We got a real schedule starting out. I would probably put our schedule up against anybody in college football, especially early.”
Auburn plays host to Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LSU and Louisiana Monroe before hitting the road to Mississippi State on Oct. 8. Auburn’s schedule is rated the nation’s toughest slate by the Fremeau Efficiency Index. Auburn’s first four opponents were a combined 40-13 last season. ULM was 2-11.
“The fact that we are playing at home will do nothing but help us,” Malzahn said. “We got in, my opinion, the best crowd in college football. It’s really something to be able to play and coach in front of them. We have a pretty tough opener, obviously with Clemson, one of the better teams in all of college football, with maybe the best player (quarterback Deshaun Watson) in all of college football.
“So, we got our work cut out for us, but we are definitely happy we’re playing the first five games at home.”
Auburn is 15-11 in the last two seasons and is undefeated in season openers under Malzahn.
“We’ve had some success with first games in the past,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to have to continue to do that to have a chance. Very good team.
“But, to answer your question, we have high expectations with our players no matter who we’re playing the first game or not.”
The bad news for Auburn, especially if it exits the first five games of the season with a losing record, is that the back half of the schedule is not much easier. Four of the final seven games are on the road — all SEC trips — and the last two conference games are trips to rivals Georgia and Alabama.