Regrouping in September.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Regrouping in September.

Mercer piece

A chance for every Tiger to play!
(Photo by Acid Reign)

     War Eagle, everybody! This week, I should be moving on to week three of the Auburn season, and previewing the Mercer Bears. Mercer comes to Auburn on September 16th, while it is still technically Summer, in the South. We’ve had homecoming early before, but this is a pretty ridiculous date for it. Frankly, I’d rather have it in November, against someone local, like Samford or Alabama A&M. Better yet, I would vote to eliminate games like this, and go to a 9-game SEC schedule. We could be playing Florida or Tennessee annually, once again.

     Last season, Mercer finished 6-5, and did not make the post-season. They had losses to the Citadel, Chattanooga, Wofford, and Samford, as well as a bad loss to Georgia Tech. I can’t imagine that they will do well against Auburn’s current roster. Therefore, I’m not going to carefully break down every matchup in this game, this week. Suffice it to say that the Tigers should smack the Bears, as handily as they want to.

     Auburn will be coming into this game off a road trip to Clemson, and faces a fairly tough stretch ahead. I expect that the team will work on a few problem areas for a quarter or two, then rest the starters heading into SEC play. After Mercer, Auburn travels to Missouri, hosts both Mississippi teams back to back, then travels to LSU and Arkansas, before a week 9 bye. Ouch. Auburn resumes the schedule at Texas A&M, before closing out with a 3-game home-stand for “Amen Corner,” hosting Georgia, Louisiana Monroe and Alabama.

    So, what will happen in the SEC and beyond by week 3? Let’s dust off the crystal ball, and try to guess. I think Auburn’s offense will be the toast of the SEC, having feasted on a couple of non-power-5 defenses, and had surprising success at Clemson. Whether this will continue into October is anyone’s guess. Attrition was brutal, last season. And all of this hinges upon whether head coach Gus Malzhan sticks to his plan to let offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey really run the show. A few 3 ‘n’ out, turnovers or injuries could change this plan. Time will tell.

    The biggest question mark on this team at this time, is the offensive line. Will this issue be solved by the Clemson game in Week two? It had better be. Auburn won’t face a better defensive front till the Iron Bowl, on Thanksgiving weekend.

     After A-Day, many folks look for quarterback Jarrett Stidham to be a star. The guy on Auburn’s offense that really needs a big year for the team to be successful, is running back Kamryn Pettway. Last season, when Pettway got his chance to tote the rock, the Auburn offense absolutely exploded! Here’s hoping for a big season for Pettway.

     Which coaches are on the hot seat in the SEC this season? We will start at Kentucky, where Mark Stoops is in his 5th season. Last year, the Wildcats finally broke into the post-season, only to get pile-driven by Georgia Tech in Jacksonville in the Taxslayer Bowl. We think of the Stoops brothers as spread-passing teams, but Kentucky last season succeeded by lining up and running over weak SEC East teams on the ground. I expect that this will be tougher, this season. Improved opponents such as South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Louisville will be tough. Kentucky won all of those matchups, last season. It won’t happen again.

     Over in Athens, Georgia, expectations are through the roof for second-year head coach Kirby Smart. Natives are a little restless, after last season’s 8-5 record. The Bulldogs did not replace former long-time coach Mark Richt, for this sort of finish. This season, Georgia has road games at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, at Jacksonville against the Gators, at Auburn and in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. My guess is that more these will be bad results, than good.

     No team in the SEC lost more talent than Tennessee did, during the offseason, than Tennessee did. If the Vols can get past a Labor Day matchup with Georgia Tech, and survive a brutal trip to Gainesville a couple of weeks later, the schedule becomes manageable. Big losses in September could spell doom for 5th year coach Butch Jones.

     No seat in the SEC head coach club is hotter than Kevin Sumlin’s, at Texas A&M. This school did not jump out of the Big-12, to finish 8-5 with a late-season fade every year, in the SEC. This season, the Aggies have a good chance to start 5-0. October brings dates hosting Alabama, at Florida, hosting MSU, Auburn and New Mexico, and finishing at Ole Miss and LSU. That’s a tough slate.

     Another SEC West team that is tired of finishing with 7 wins is Arkansas. Bret Bielema is in his 5th season, and talk still centers around rebuilding, in Fayetteville. The only tough road trips this coming season for the Hogs are at Alabama and at LSU. Virtually every other opponent with a pulse comes to Arkansas. It’s do or die time, in that regime.

     I figure that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is basically a dead man walking, with NCAA sanctions looming. I can’t see the administration over in Oxford sticking with him, after the final rulings come out. It will be interesting to see if the team performs well this fall, or mails it in.

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