ESPN releases their future power rankings every offseason, in which FPR is used to rank the Top-25 teams over the next three (2021-2023) seasons. FPR is classified by ESPN as a personnel-based projection, which is used to predict who will be the nation’s top programs throughout the future of college football. So how did Auburn football rank compared to their SEC foes?
Last season, Auburn football was ranked 12th and held a #19 future offensive ranking, while having a Top-10 defensive ranking at the #9 spot. This is what ESPN and the rankings said about the Auburn Tigers going into last season:
“The tricky part with Auburn isn’t talent. The program boasts enough to challenge for the SEC and the CFP. But coach Gus Malzahn’s job status, along with questions about whether he’s lost his fastball on offense, casts a shadow over the program and its three-year outlook. Auburn’s defense is rolling under veteran coordinator Kevin Steele and projects well at positions like linebacker with senior K.J. Britt and dynamic sophomore Owen Pappoe. Although the Tigers will miss Derrick Brown and others up front, their line development and back-seven recruiting (Christopher Thompson Jr., Ladarius Tennison, Wesley Steiner) virtually ensures no major slippage.
The SEC is trending more toward offense, though, and both Malzahn and new coordinator Chad Morris need more from quarterback Bo Nix in his second season. Auburn has enough at wide receiver and running back, especially after adding standout 2020 recruit Tank Bigsby. An offensive line upgrade will help, although the group will have continuity.”
The Tigers finished 6-5 and absolutely missed Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson up front on defense while struggling all season at the offensive line spot. This led to a slight regression in Bo Nix and the Tigers failed to meet their lofty preseason goals, which ultimately led to the firing of Gus Malzahn.
ESPN and power rankings were much more conservative with Auburn football this year, as the Tigers were ranked #20 in the 2021 future power rankings. The Tigers were not ranked in the QB rankings nor were they ranked in the future offensive ranking. The defense was ranked a Top-10 unit again and took the #10 spot, which shows how much progress has been made since 2016 under Kevin Steele.
This is what ESPN said when analyzing the future of Auburn football for these rankings:
“The Bryan Harsin era on the Plains begins with a very clear directive: get more out of Bo Nix (or another quarterback) and the offense, while maintaining the performance level on defense. If so, Auburn should push Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in the SEC West division, and contend for its first CFP appearance. Nix, a two-year starter, has obvious gifts but must become a steadier passer and a less-reckless player overall. If not, Harsin could move on to LSU transfer TJ Finley, Dematrius Davis or, in a year, 2022 quarterback commit Holden Geriner, an ESPN 300 selection. The new coach inherits an emerging star in sophomore running back Tank Bigsby, but must identify other playmakers at wide receiver and tight end. Sophomore wideout Elijah Canion is among those to watch under Harsin and coordinator Mike Bobo. Auburn returns all five line starters and a solid center in senior Nick Brahms, but the team needs more from the veteran group, as well as recruiting/transfer upgrades for 2022 and 2023.
Former Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason takes over an Auburn defense led by talented linebacker tandem Owen Pappoe and senior Zakoby McClain, as well as standout cornerback Roger McCreary and veteran safety Smoke Monday. The back-end outlook beyond 2022 looks solid with defensive backs Nehemiah Pritchett and Ladarius Tennison, linebacker Cam Riley and others. Auburn loses quite a bit up front but brings back All-SEC freshman selection Colby Wooden, and added end Marcus Harris, a transfer from Kansas. The Tigers also have recruited well along the line with Dylan Brooks, ESPN’s No. 18 recruit for 2021, and tackle Lee Hunter.”
The quarterback position is clearly going to be the x-factor for the Tigers and Bo Nix is facing the most important season of his career for the Tigers. TJ Finley is going to be there if he fails to live up to the hype and Bryan Harsin knows winning is a must, even in Year 1. There will be one of the biggest quarterback battles we have seen on the Plains if Nix leaves the door open during the 2021 season. Nix and this young group of wide receivers are going to have to find a way to keep up with the projected stellar defensive performance if the Tigers expect to compete in the SEC.
On the defensive side of the ball, the biggest question mark surrounds the defensive line and if Nick Eason can find a way to bring back an Auburn pass rush, which was lackluster at best last season. Dylan Brooks and Lee Hunter will have to be able to contribute immediately, while Colby Wooden will need to continue his momentum from a strong 2020 finish. If J.J. Pegues can find his rhythm on the defensive line, then the Tigers could have one of the most talented defensive lines in the SEC. Derek Mason has a lot of untapped potential, but if it clicks then I expect the Tigers to surpass their Top-10 ranking and make a run as a Top-5 unit.
The stage is set for an extremely unpredictable season for Auburn football. Will the Tigers exceed expectations once again? We will find out starting September 4th in Jordan-Hare Stadium!