After reaching the National Title game in 2013, Auburn has gone a disappointing 15-11 overall (7-6 last season; 2-6 in conference). Based on those pedestrian results, the Tigers are flying under-the-radar entering the 2016 college football campaign and could be one of the most underrated teams in the nation.
Head coach Gus Malzahn’s offense excels with a mobile quarterback, and the Tigers finally have that in JUCO transfer John Franklin III. The East Mississippi Community College transfer (and one-time Florida State backup) has made dramatic strides according to Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. “Every practice, you see him improving,” Malzahn said.
Third-year sophomore Sean White and senior Jeremy Johnson are also battling Franklin III for the starting job in what coach Malzahn calls a “really good battle” between “three guys battling their guts out.”
While the defense only returns six starters, the hiring of new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele brings legitimacy to Auburn’s stop unit. A healthy Carl Lawson headlines what will be a much-improved Auburn defense in 2016.
Clemson is determined to avenge last season’s loss to Alabama in the national championship game, but the Tigers lost a plethora of stars on the defensive side of the ball.
Clemson ranked 11th in the country in pass efficiency defense in 2015 and now face a new season without star cornerback Mackenzie Alexander and starting safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse. Clemson lost three starters to the 2016 NFL Draft, leaving the unit a major question mark for the upcoming season. Cordrea Tankersley is the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield, and the Tigers secondary took a hit when Adrian Baker injured his ACL during spring practice.
With the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman, who set the school record for rushing yards in a season with 1,527 in 2015, the Tigers’ offense will be just as potent as last year’s unit which averaged 37.5 points per game (16th best in college football).
Despite being the least-experienced team in the ACC, the Tigers are ranked No. 2 in the preseason AP Poll. The recent loss of starting defensive end Austin Bryant (broken right foot) for Clemson’s season-opener further depletes an already-inexperienced defense.
Bryant was expected to fill one of the voids left by the departures of starting defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. “We just hate to lose Bryant because, even though he is a sophomore, he was our most experienced defensive end,” head coach Dabo Swinney said on August 16.
The Tigers are 56-19 SU in their last 75 games at Jordan-Hare Stadium, including going 9-6 ATS as home underdogs over the last ten years. With the nation’s best special team’s unit coached by Scott Fountain (enters his 8th season at Auburn) and led by place kicker Daniel Carlson (school-record 14 straight field goals; 49 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs), the Tigers are capable of pulling the upset on September 3.
Grab the generous points with Auburn as Oskeim Sports’ Free College Football pick for Week One and invest with confidence.
Oskeim Sports’ Free College Football Pick: Auburn Tigers (+ the points)