Auburn Football: Is Bryan Harsin inheriting a better team than Malzahn did in 2013?

Bryan Harsin enters his first year as the head coach for Auburn football with many questions and a lot of uncertainty surrounding what the on-field performance will be for the 2021 season. Many experts have given Harsin reasonable expectations for next season and has cited a roster that needs multiple upgrades across the board.

This has made many experts and fans wonder about the last time Auburn football brought in a new head coach, which was the 2013 season with Gus Malzahn. In that season, Malzahn led the Tigers to an SEC Championship and was 30 seconds away from winning the final BCS National Championship over Florida State in Pasadena, CA.

This begs the question: Is Bryan Harsin inheriting a better overall Auburn football team in 2021 than Gus Malzahn in 2013?

According to 247Sports insider and Auburn football insider Nathan King, based solely on recruiting rankings the 2021 Auburn football team would be slightly better than the 2013 Auburn football team. King found that some of the bigger differences was in the offensive and defensive lines.

Here’s how King broke each down:

Offensive Line: “Auburn dominated up front in 2013 with the best rushing offense in the country. Helping in that regard was the fact that the 2013 roster featured seven of Auburn’s top-20 offensive line recruits of all-time, plus a few more down the roster who would eventually become starters and NFL prospects”

Defensive Line: “Auburn’s 2013 defensive line holds a significant advantage in recruiting rankings and is sprinkled with NFL players, even if they didn’t make their biggest impacts in 2013, like (Montravius) Adams. The 2021 group has a couple of players with starting experience, but is mostly unproven, especially compared to the middle and back end of the Auburn defense this year”

Fly War Eagle wanted to take a deeper dive by also looking into some of the other key factors that could determine if the 2021 Auburn football team could replicate the success the 2013 Auburn football team had throughout the season.

One of the positions the 2021 Auburn football team won in terms of overall rating may not actually be an advantage, which was the quarterback position. Bo Nix gives 2021 the advantage due to being the highest-rated quarterback signee in Auburn football history, but Nick Marshall may be a Top-3 Auburn quarterback of all-time and only was the #27 overall JUCO prospect out of Garden City Community College in 2013.

Bryan Harsin’s first year as the head coach of Auburn football largely relies on the performance of Bo Nix and he will have to have his biggest season yet to even come close to what Nick Marshall brought to the 2013 Auburn football team.

The first thing that the 2021 Auburn football team will not have that the 2013 Auburn football team had, which is the familiarity with the scheme and coaching staff.

Gus Malzahn was at Auburn from 2009-2011 and only coached for Arkansas State for one season before returning to lead the Tigers in 2013. Malzahn recruited or was familiar with almost all of the key players for the 2013 National Championship run; something that Bryan Harsin will not have when he takes the field on September 4th against Akron in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

When analyzing the recruiting ratings of the 2013 roster, a key factor that is overlooked is the on-field performance of some of the lower-rated guys compared to some of the top-rated talents on that team.

An example is that Jeremy Johnson was the highest-rated quarterback on the 2013 team, but Nick Marshall was the x-factor in that offensive explosion we all witnessed on the field.

Another great example is Sammie Coates, who was only the 6th highest rated wide receiver recruits on the 2013 Auburn football team but led the team in receiving with 902 yards and the next closest player was Ricardo Louis with only 325 receiving yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, Chris Davis (Hero of the “Kick Six”) was only the 11th highest rated defensive back on the Tigers, but started every game in the 2013 season and had the biggest play of the season against Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Can Bryan Harsin find these hidden gems on the 2021 Auburn football roster? That might be the biggest question surrounding this next season and the biggest determining factor on whether Harsin exceeds expectations in 2021.

The offensive and defensive lines are probably the most important positions to Harsin’s success in Year 1. Brandon Council, Tashawn Manning, and Alec Jackson are all expected to start on the offensive line and they are the three lowest-rated offensive line recruits on the 2021 Auburn football roster. Harsin needs these guys to play above their potential in 2021, which should only help Bo Nix improve his game to the next level at the quarterback position.

Auburn football shocked the world in 2013 when nobody in the country gave them a chance to succeed. Bryan Harsin has won every press conference, has won on the recruiting trail, and the motto for the 2021 season is “1-0 every day” and the players have bought into the Harsin vision. The 2021 season is going to be one of the most unpredictable in recent Auburn football memory, but right now Harsin is ready for his first run in the SEC.