After starting the season with College Football Playoff aspirations, Auburn finished 5-7 and missed a bowl. Looking ahead to this season, sportsbooks seem to expect significant improvement. FanDuel Sportsbook currently gives Auburn a 6.5-win total juiced to -142 on the over. Let’s dive into Auburn football predictions, futures, roster overview and more.
Auburn Football Predictions, Futures & Roster Overview
After a disastrous Bryan Harsin tenure, Auburn hired College Football veteran Hugh Freeze as their new head coach. Freeze has been successful at every stop, including going 34-15 in his four years with Liberty. Freeze is known for his offensive prowess, but he still added another experienced play caller in Phil Montgomery at offensive coordinator. Montgomery most recently coached Tulsa from 2015-2022 with a 43-53 record. Tulsa still ranked 76th in offense last year.
On defense, Ron Roberts will serve as defensive coordinator after filling the same role with Baylor from 2020-2022. Last year, Baylor ranked 39th in total defense. This staff has a tough job with a complete rebuild on their hands in the shark-infested SEC West. However, they’ve already attacked this task this offseason.
Auburn started the spring with questions at quarterback after incumbent Robby Ashford’s up and down 2022. To add more competition, Auburn added Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne. Last year, Thorne completed 242 of 390 passes (62.1%) for 2,679 yards (6.9 YPA), 19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. It should be noted that he played better in 2021. In that season, he completed 235 of 390 passes (60.3%) for 3,226 yards (8.3 YPA), 27 touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Regardless, he finished ninth in passing grade among Big Ten signal callers in 2022.
Thorne doesn’t have much mobility with 270 career yards on 167 attempts (1.6 YPC). Ashford offers a completely different skills as a dual threat. Standing 6-3, 212 pounds, Ashford ran 153 times for 710 yards (4.6 YPC). As a passer, he completed 123 of 250 passes (49.2%) for 1,613 yards (6.5 YPA), seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions.. He was the SEC’s 14th highest graded signal caller in 2022. Ultimately, this position battle will likely continue through fall camp.
At running back, Auburn lost Tank Bigsby to the NFL. They also suspended Jarquez Hunter for an unknown length of time. Hunter stands 5-10, 202 pounds and rushed for 668 yards and seven scores on 104 carries. He also caught 17 balls for another 224 yards. Hunter has never averaged under 6.4 yards per carry. Last year, he averaged 3.83 yards after contact and a forced missed tackle on 38.5% of his attempts. Losing him would be a major blow to the program.
Luckily, Auburn hit the portal this offseason and brought in USF’s Brian Battie. He stands 5-8, 165 pounds, but he rushed 174 times for 1,185 yards and eight scores last year. He also caught 14 balls for 101 yards. Battie averaged 3.43 yards after contact and forced a missed tackle on 31% of his attempts. However, his size remains a concern against more challenging competition. Behind him, Auburn has Damari Alston and four-star freshman Jeremiah Cobb. Cobb gets to campus this summer. Alston has 14 career attempts for 85 yards.
Auburn actually returns their top three pass catchers. However, Jarquez Hunter is one of those names. Also worrisome, Auburn lost Shedrick Jackson and Tar’Varish Dawson. Among the returners, lead receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson will be back after catching 26 balls for 493 yards and three scores. He is 5-10, 160 pounds and played in the slot 89.7% of the time. His 2.13 yards per route ranked 18th in the SEC. Former LSU Tiger Koy Moore also returns after snagging 20 balls for 314 yards. Moore is 6-1, 192 pounds and played in the slot 23% of the time. His 1.21 yards per route ranked 53rd last year. The final starting spot isn’t clear and Auburn may even elect to rotate.
They brought in three transfer receivers in Nick Mardner (Cincinnati), Shane Hooks (Jackson State), and Caleb Burton (Ohio State). Mardner is 6-6, 214 pounds and caught 19 balls for 218 yards and three scores with Cincinnati last year. He originally played four seasons with Hawaii before coming to the mainland. His best season came in 2021 with 46 catches for 913 yards with the Rainbow Warriors. Overall, he finished with an average 1.34 yards per route last year.
Hooks is 6-4, 205 pounds and caught 67 balls for 770 yards and ten scores with Jackson State last year. He played out wide 98.3% of the time and his 1.71 yards per route were solid. Hooks spent three years with Ohio prior to his two at Jackson State. He has always been an efficient receiver on a per route basis. Burton is 5-11, 169 pounds and failed to see the field in 2022. He was a four-star recruit and the 71st overall player in the 2022 class. Like many others, he found himself buried in a crowded Ohio State receiving room. This group also contains depth veterans Omari Kelly, Camden Brown, and Malcolm Johnson, who can all be asked to play snaps in a pinch. Brown played 227 snaps last year. Johnson played 108 and Kelly finished with 76.
At tight end, Auburn lost John Samuel Shenker, but they added Florida International transfer Rivaldo Fairweather via the portal. Fairweather is 6-5, 245 pounds and blocked on 43.7% of his snaps. As a receiver, he caught 28 balls for 430 yards and three scores last year. He posted a solid 1.68 yards per route. Fortunately, Auburn also returns Luke Deal, who played 371 snaps himself last year. Deal is 6-5, 257 pounds and blocked 75.7% of his snaps. Deal only caught three passes for 34 yards last year, but he at least has four years of experience with the program. Tyler Fromm also returns for depth here.
Along the offensive line, Auburn lost left tackle Kilian Zierer, center Brandon Council, right tackle Austin Troxell, and right guard Keiondre Jones. However, this team hit the portal harder than almost anyone in the country. Right now, both tackles project to be transfers with Gunner Britton coming over from Western Kentucky and Dillon Wade from Tulsa. Britton only allowed ten quarterback pressures last year and Wade allowed 28. Fortunately, the portal additions didn’t end there. Jaden Muskrat (61.2) comes over at guard from Tulsa, while Avery Jones (65.8) makes his way over at center from East Carolina. Muskrat mostly played tackle last year, but he allowed 27 pressures with decent blocking grades. Jones has three years of starting experience and allowed just 12 total pressures last year. Ultimately, two of these transfers look solid and the other two look decent with upside . The final guard spot remains a work in progress. Izavion Miller comes over from the JUCO ranks. Kameron Stutts is back after 520 snaps last year. Jeremiah Wright also played 234 snaps at the guard position. If nothing else, Auburn has a lot of names who have played snaps along the offensive line. This unit ranked 61st last year and a slight improvement would be reasonable expectation.
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On defense, Auburn ranked 55th in 2022. This included the 105th-ranked run defense, 50th-ranked pass rush and 21st-ranked pass coverage. On paper, this projects to be the strength of the team. Seven players in the secondary have at least 380 snaps to their name. The front seven loses more production, but Auburn landed nine transfers among this position group. Not to mention, another eight four-star recruits enter the program on the defensive side of the ball.
Starting with the secondary, Auburn returns corners Nehemiah Pritchett, DJ James, and Keionte Scott. All of these players saw at least 629 snaps last year. In particular, Pritchell will enter his fourth year as a starter after allowing just 346 yards in his coverage with eight pass breakups. Safety also brings elite experience. Jaylin Simpson, Donovan Kaufman, and Zion Puckett all have multiple starts to their names. Kaufman really impressed last year, allowing just 105 yards into his coverage. This is one of the deepest secondaries in the SEC.
The linebacker position saw the departure of veteran Owen Pappoe. However, Cam Riley and Wesley Steiner both played at least 348 snaps. Not to mention, Auburn brought in four transfers in DeMario Tolan (LSU), Austin Keys (Ole Miss), Larry Nixon III (North Texas), and Jalen McLeod (App State). Tolan and Keys have been running with the first team in spring, but Auburn could use a rotation here. Players like McLeod bring in a specific specialty. McLeod generated 37 quarterback pressures last year on 382 snaps and offers the Auburn defense plenty of variability.
Along the defensive line, Marcus Harris and Jayson Jones return as starters after playing quality snaps in 2022. This unit was also bolstered by transfers. Western Kentucky’s Justin Rogers and Vanderbilt’s Elijah McAllister both project to start after running with the first team. Fortunately, transfers like Mosiah Nasil-Kite (Maryland), Lawrence Johnson (Purdue), and Stephen Sings V (Liberty) fill out the roster for depth purposes. Another name to monitor is freshman edge Keldric Faulk. Faulk is a four-star edge prospect and top 100 player in this class. With so many experienced options, it looks likely that Auburn can piece together a quality defensive line rotation.
As usual, Auburn will play a tough SEC West schedule. Fortunately, they did themselves some favors in the non-conference, scheduling UMass, Cal, Samford, and New Mexico. In their crossover games, they drew Georgia and Vanderbilt, which they should split. From within their division, they travel to Texas A&M, LSU, and Arkansas
With a cupcake non-conference and Vanderbilt on the schedule, Auburn should be a clear favorite in five games this year. From there, they need to pick off two teams within the SEC to eclipse their 6.5 win total. FanDuel lists Auburn as +7500 to win the SEC, which ties Mississippi State. From there, they’re only ahead of Arkansas in terms of postseason odds among teams that weren’t already mentioned on their schedule. At +116, under 6.5 wins makes some sense in the first year of a new coaching staff at Auburn.