Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.
Today’s team: No. 11 Auburn (Related coverage: Writing on the wall that Stidham needs to lead Tigers moving forward)
Best-case scenario: New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey brings some needed explosiveness to the passing game with the addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, who completed 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards in the spring game to make things interesting in the battle with two-year starter Sean White. Lindsey’s Arizona State offense threw for 259.3 yards per game, which ranked 30th nationally.
Worst-case scenario: Teams continue to load up the box to stop star running back Kamryn Pettway, who finished fourth among SEC rushers with 1,224 yards along with seven touchdowns. Stidham was the leader on the depth chart after the spring game while White will try to win the job after missing time this spring with a broken forearm and shoulder problems. Lindsey has a huge challenge ahead of him this fall; the nation’s No. 112th-ranked passing attack produced only 12 touchdowns in 13 games last season.
The key game: Nov. 25, Alabama. Did you really have to ask?
INSIDE THE TIGERS
Coach: Gus Malzahn (fifth year, 35-18; 44-21 overall)
2016: 8-5, 5-3 in the SEC (lost to Oklahoma 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Goodbye: DT Montravius Adams (Jaguars, 3rd round), LB Carl Lawson (Bengals, 4th), DB Rudy Ford (Cardinals, 6th), DB Josh Holsey (Redskins, 7th)
Spring cleaning: The Tigers lost their two best pressure rushers in Adams and Lawson, who combined for 13.5 sacks for the nation’s seventh best scoring defense (17.1 points per game). The offensive line also took a hit as guard Alex Kozan and tackle Robert Left departed. Auburn didn’t throw it effectively but 2016 leading receiver Tony Stevens will have to be replaced.
Passing: Sean White, 133-208-1,679, 9/3
Rushing: Kamryn Pettway, 209-1,224-7 (1st); Kerryon Johnson, 182-895-11 (2nd)
Receiving: Ryan Davis, 25-194-1 (2nd); Eli Stove, 23-224-0 (3rd)
Tackles: DB Tray Matthews, 76 (1st); LB Tre Williams, 67 (2nd); LB Deshaun Davis, 63 (3rd)
Sacks: DL Andrew Williams, 3 (3rd); DL Marlon Davidson, 2.5 (4th)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (3)
Offense: RB Kamryn Pettway (1st team), K Daniel Carlson (1st), OL Braden Smith (2nd)
One magic moment: Remember Chris Davis Jr.’s miraculous missed field goal return to beat Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl? It came to be known as the Kick Six. Speaking of six, that’s’ also the Tigers’ only win over the Crimson Tide in the last six meetings. The Tide have outscored them 39-23 in the last three matchups.
Big ‘backers back: Auburn will go as far as its defense will take it, so look for a deep corps of linebackers to lead the way. Tre’ Williams played in the middle for most of 2016 but has the athleticism to move to the outside. He finished with 67 tackles in only 11 games and will surely top his sack total of 3.5 if he can avoid some bothersome injuries that have plagued him over the years. LSU fans remember Williams as the guy who was ejected in 2016 after a helmet-to-helmet hit on QB Danny Etling.
Are these the good old days, Gus?: Malzahn said to the school’s website before the 2016 season that “these next three or four years are fixing to be our best years we’ve had.” Well, the Tigers limped to the finish in 2016 with three losses in their last four games, including a 35-19 no-show against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers are 15-11 over the last two years, not exactly dominant though remember they play in the rugged SEC West division that includes their most bitter rival, Alabama.
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 2||Georgia Southern|
|Sept. 9||at Clemson||L, 19-13|
|Sept. 23||at Missouri*|
|Sept. 30||Mississippi State*||W, 38-14|
|Oct. 7||Ole Miss*||W, 40-29|
|Oct. 14||at LSU*||W, 18-13|
|Oct. 21||at Arkansas*||W, 56-3|
|Nov. 4||at Texas A&M*||L, 29-16|
|Nov. 11||Georgia*||L, 13-7|
|Nov. 25||Alabama*||L, 30-12|
|* SEC game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||38-27 (18-22)||1-3 in bowls|
|2012||3-9 (0-8)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2013||12-2 (7-1)||NR/2nd||L BCS title game|
|2014||8-5 (4-4)||6th/NR||L Outback|
|2015||7-6 (2-6)||6th/NR||W Birmingham|
|2016||8-5 (5-3)||NR/24th||L Sugar|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS
Scoring: 49th (31.2 ppg)
Points allowed: 7th (17.1 ppg)
Passing: 112th (169.5 ypg)
Rushing: 6th (271.3 ypg)
Total off.: 43rd (440.8 ypg)
Total def.: 28th (361.9 ypg)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
No. 25: Boise State
No. 24: Oregon
No. 23: Tennessee
No. 22: Texas
No. 21: Kansas State
No. 20: Miami
No. 19: West Virginia
No. 18: South Florida
No. 17: Florida
No. 16: Stanford
No. 15: Louisville
No. 14: Georgia
No. 13: Wisconsin
No. 12: LSU
No. 11: Auburn
No. 10: Coming Thursday. Want a hint? This school won back-to-back national championships in 1932 and 1933 with a player who starred at center, linebacker and long snapper — and later became the 38th president of the United States.
SEC (11-Auburn, 12-LSU, 14-Georgia, 17-Florida, 23-Tennessee)
Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)
ACC (15-Louisville, 20-Miami)
Pac-12 (16-Stanford, 24-Oregon)
AAC (18-South Florida)
Big Ten (13-Wisconsin)
Mountain West (25-Boise State)
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