After losing their starting quarterback from last season, head coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn football team have their work cut out for them if they want to make a run towards the SEC Championship in Atlanta or even the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers definitely have one of the toughest football schedules in the country, not only because they play in the Southeastern Conference’s West division, but also crossing over with the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators from the East. And on top of that, they are playing a neutral-site game against the Oregon Ducks to open their season.
One nice thing about the Auburn football schedule is a majority are home games, including against their toughest opponents towards the end of the season.
Game One: Oregon
August 31: Dallas, TX (AT&T Stadium)
The last time these teams played was in the 2011 BCS National Championship game when Cam Newton led the Tigers to a win over the Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl. The teams are obviously very different now with both schools changing coaches. Gene Chizik and Chip Kelly were the coaches then, and they are now Malzahn and Mario Cristobal.
With Jarrett Stidham forgoing his final season for the NFL and being drafted by the New England Patriots, Auburn now have to break in a new starting quarterback, and each of their top candidates are freshman: redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix.
The Ducks have Justin Herbert under center, so they definitely have the advantage in experience. Last season, the Tigers began the year with a win over another Pac-12 team in Washington. That didn’t translate to a wildly successful season, finishing at 8-5, but it is definitely a start they would like to replicate in 2019.
Game Two: Tulane
Sept. 7: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
Auburn has played the Green Wave 37 times in their history, and surprisingly are losing the series with a record of 14-17-6. All but one game came before 1956, so they don’t really matter when looking at the 2019 season, but it is still interesting that they need to beat Tulane four times before they would lead in the all-time series.
The last time they played was in 2006 when the Tigers won, 38-13. This time around should be the same, and if week one doesn’t go well at the quarterback position and there are still questions, this will be the game Malzahn can get better looks at his options than he has during the offseason and in practice.
Game Three: Kent State
Sept. 14: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
This is the first time these teams will play one another in their programs’ history, but it isn’t a game Auburn should have to worry about too much. The Golden Flashes finished last season 2-10, and even with improvement, shouldn’t come close to the Tigers’ level in 2019. It is also another opportunity to address any uncertain position battles before the SEC schedule begins.
Game Four: at Texas A&M
Sept. 21: College Station, TX (Kyle Field)
For the first road game and SEC opponent of the season, this one will be huge. In 2018, Auburn won this game against the Aggies, 28-24. With Texas A&M bringing back their quarterback and head coach Jimbo Fisher entering another year in College Station, this team should be even better than last year. So this is definitely a tough game, but winnable as long as the quarterback position is solidified by this point.
Game Five: Mississippi State
Sept. 28: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
Last year, the Tigers lost to the Bulldogs in Starkville, 23-9. But with all of the losses Mississippi State had on defense as well as quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, this will be a completely different team. And playing on the road against that team is definitely no easy task. Home field advantage could be more than enough to put this over the top.
Game Six: at Florida
Oct. 5: Gainesville, FL (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)
Auburn has won the last three games against the Gators, including two games when Florida entered the matchup ranked inside the top four teams in college football. Playing in The Swamp is never easy, especially if UF is ranked inside the top 10 as one of the better teams in the country. However, they are definitely beatable if they have problems with their offense like they did at points last year.
Game Seven: at Arkansas
Oct. 19: Fayetteville, AR (Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium)
The Tigers have beaten the Razorbacks the last three times they played and five of the last six overall. I don’t think it will be any different this year since not only have they been beating Arkansas, but they’ve been blowouts. In the last three years, the closest this game has been was last year in a 31-point win. Arkansas doesn’t exactly seem to be much better out of nowhere, so this should probably be their easiest win on the conference schedule.
Game Eight: at LSU
Oct. 26: Baton Rouge, LA (Tiger Stadium)
For their last away game of the regular season, they will face the LSU Tigers, a team they have lost to twice in a row by a combined five points. LSU lost quite a bit off their defense, but they always reload with talent, so don’t expect that to affect them much. This game will also be played in Baton Rouge, so it will be much more difficult to win compared to last year when they lost by just one point at home on a field goal as time expired.
Game Nine: Ole Miss
Nov. 2: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
The Tigers have won three consecutive games against the Rebels, each by double figures. Last year, JaTarvious Whitlow had the best game of his young career when he ran for 170 yards on 19 carries and also had 38 yards and a touchdown on four catches, leading Auburn to a 31-16 win over Ole Miss. With the success they have had in this series, I have a hard time imagining it changing much, especially with this game at home.
Game Ten: Georgia
Nov. 16: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
Probably their second most difficult game of the regular season, the Tigers host the Bulldogs this time around. They have lost the last two times against Georgia by a combined 38 points, and the Dawgs continue to get better under Kirby Smart. If they want a chance at the SEC West title, this may end up being a must win game, but it’ll be a tough one against the team they have played the most in program history; 115 times with 52 wins.
Game Eleven: Samford
Nov. 23: Auburn, Al (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
The Tigers haven’t played Samford since 1924, but the nine times these teams have met have led to nine wins for Auburn by a combined score of 373-9. Though the Bulldogs gave Florida State all they could handle last year, I doubt it will be close when they meet late in the season. Expect the score to continue the history of this matchup.
Game Twelve: Alabama
Nov. 30: Auburn, AL (Jordan-Hare Stadium)
Since 2008, Auburn has played the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl 11 times. Of those 11 games, Alabama entered ranked as the top team in the country five times. The Tigers have won just three games in the last 11, but in rivalry games, stats and records don’t really matter. Last season they lost 52-21. With the game being played at home, it should be a lot closer, but it will be a tough one to win against a team that has played in the College Football Playoff for five consecutive seasons, including two national championship games.
Overview of the Season
It is tough to really predict how a season will go when almost every game is going to be a difficult one. Really, there are only six games that I see as should-wins. Then there are games like Oregon, Florida, Texas A&M, and LSU that they could definitely win, but could go either way. I think they will probably split those games with a loss to Oregon to begin their season and losing to the Gators on the road.
With the Georgia and Alabama Games at home, I think they have a chance, but I plan on those both being losses. By the end of the season, their record will be somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3, though they could definitely get to 10-2 or 11-1 if the quarterback who wins the job comes in and is much better than expected. But the record fans should expect is probably 8-4 with such a difficult schedule ahead.