Alignment will define Auburn as a ‘dark horse’ CFP contender: Analyst

CBS Sports' Shehan Jeyarajah believes alignment will define Auburn football being a College Football Playoff contender in 2023 Mandatory Credit: The Montgomery Advertiser
CBS Sports' Shehan Jeyarajah believes alignment will define Auburn football being a College Football Playoff contender in 2023 Mandatory Credit: The Montgomery Advertiser /
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Auburn football head coach Hugh Freeze getting his coaching staff, roster, boosters, administration, and everyone in between in alignment is the essential element that could make the Tigers a “dark horse” College Football Playoff contender — this, at least, according to CBS Sports’ Shehan Jeyarajah.

“Auburn fortified the passing game by adding veteran Michigan State signal caller Payton Thorne and Ohio State wide receiver transfer Caleb Burton,” Jeyarajah wrote. “A fresh coaching staff and key pieces in the passing game could lead to a quick turnaround if Freeze can get everyone on the same page.”

Beyond the passing game’s improvement, perhaps even more importantly, the offensive line has been upgraded significantly on paper with the additions of East Carolina’s Avery Jones, Western Kentucky’s Gunner Britton, and Tulsa’s Dillon Wade and Jaden Muskrat. The running back room replaced Tank Bigsby with a proven game-breaker in USF’s Brian Battie. Jarquez Hunter figures to take another step forward with more touches in 2023, with 1,000 rushing yards perhaps within reach. Those two elements could be what ultimately make life easier for Payton Thorne or whoever else ends up as QB1.

Auburn football has the momentum in the state of Alabama as far as SEC programs go

Ultimately, it’s undeniable that the Crimson Tide’s vaunted 2023 recruiting class, the remnants of its also historically top-ranked 2021 cycle, and the impressive transfer portal classes of the past two cycles give Alabama a more talented roster between the two Yellowhammer State SEC staples.

Still, it’s hard not to recognize that there’s far more momentum in a lot of respects right now for the Tigers than there is for the Tide. There’s a more proven QB situation and running back room on the Plains, and the pressure to win isn’t as present in Auburn as it is in Tuscaloosa.

Sprinkle in Freeze’s ability to stand up to Nick Saban and take him down on more than one occasion, and there appears to be even less fear for the more recently successful Iron Bowl foe than usual.