College football analyst Phil Steele’s annual preseason magazine will be in stores at the end of June, and fans can already read the magazine via the Apple Store today.
Among Steele’s analysis for the 2017 season includes a surprising team he expects to be in the mix for the College Football Playoff next season.
Steele said Auburn is a team who can compete for the national title next season due to the talent Gus Malzahn and Co. will have on display.
“They have top 10 talent which makes them a legitimate title threat, but also have a schedule that includes road trips to Clemson, LSU and (Texas) A&M,” Steele said according to Auburn Undercover. “Still, they host ‘Bama and with an upset of the Tide, they could be back in the mix to make the playoffs.”
Steele has Auburn finishing second in the SEC West behind Alabama, and the SEC West could come down to the Nov. 25 meeting between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers return 15 starters from last year’s 8-5 team that made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. The addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham at quarterback should be an upgrade over Sean White and Jeremy Johnson from the last two years, and Auburn has plenty of talent returning at skill positions.
Running back Kamryn Pettway finished fifth in the conference in rushing last season despite battling a hamstring injury late in the year, and do-it-all back Kerryon Johnson is back for another year.
Steele expects Auburn to win nine or 10 games, and he thinks the Tigers will check in at No. 10 in the first AP Poll of the season.
The road schedule is daunting—specifically the stretch including three road games in four weeks versus LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M—but the Tigers do have the luxury of facing rivals Georgia and Alabama at home.
If Auburn’s offense makes strides with Stidham at the helm and the defense can pick up where it left off last season, they could easily be in the mix for the playoffs in November.
Malzhan led the Tigers to an appearance in the national title game in his first season as head coach in 2013, and his team was ranked in the top four late in the 2014 season before losing three games down the stretch.
The last two seasons have been bumpier for Auburn, but Malzahn could finally have them back in the national spotlight again in 2017.
(h/t Auburn Undercover)