Aubserver Mailbag 142: What is the outlook for the second half of the season?
This week: Basketball defense, KenPom, the Ole Miss game, quarterback play, Cadillac Williams, new Auburn sports and chicken fingers
QB Robby Ashford (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
The second half of Auburn football season is when things get really ramped up around these parts.
This week opened a critical — and potentially successful — final stretch of six games for Auburn football. It also featured SEC Basketball Media Days, and we’re getting really close to the start of hoops season on the Plains.
(Auburn also has an open basketball practice Saturday afternoon, before the Ole Miss football game, so keep your eyes out for some Observations from there later today.)
That’s made for one of the busiest weeks of newsletters and podcasts that we’ve had here in a while. That pushed back our Friday newsletter to Saturday morning again, but you’ll have plenty of time to dive in before the Tigers take on the Rebels inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
This week’s mailbag hits both football and basketball early before going back to some what-ifs for the Tigers’ quarterback play and some fun questions toward the end about new varsity sports and chicken finger establishments.
Thanks, as always, for your support of The Auburn Observer. We hope you’re enjoying everything that we’ve put out on the football and basketball fronts — because it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
1 - The game on Saturday was pretty disheartening all around, especially considering that was the performance coming out of the bye week. I know that you don't do predictions, so instead I'll just ask this: What do you think the outlook is like for Auburn's remaining games, and how do you think they line up for those, considering they don't have another bye week where they'd be able to regroup?
2 - Basketball question: On the podcast at the beginning of this week you said that the defense was going to be a work in progress. Is this year's defense going to resemble the defense Auburn has had the past couple of years, a half-court style with a big presence in the paint, or could it more so resemble the defense of say the Final Four team, where they try to force turnovers and trigger a lot of fast breaks? Or could it potentially be a hybrid of the two considering Broome is still around and will be an effective rim protector, while it seems like the rest of the team has gained guys who are pretty athletic which would presumably lend towards the style of forcing turnovers like the '19 team. Which style do you think we're more likely to see this year?
The LSU game was indeed disheartening for Auburn all the way around, because it never felt competitive after the first couple of drives. Auburn’s offense didn’t look like it took advantage of anything from the off week against what had been a weak defense, and its own defense played its worst game of the season in terms of effort and execution. Any momentum you might have gained from taking Georgia down to the wire two weeks earlier just wasn’t evident for Auburn in Death Valley.
However, the first half of the Tigers’ season as a whole has gone pretty much according to preseason projections from a results perspective. They beat UMass, got a narrow win over Cal on the road and beat Samford. And, as bad as they might have looked at Texas A&M and LSU, they were much better than expected against Georgia.
Inside the SEC, Auburn has a middle-of-the-pack rushing attack and a middle-of-the-pack defense with some good special teams play. For a team that has had back-to-back losing seasons and entered the year having only won two of its last 12 conference games, that’s not a terrible spot. The big problem, obviously, is having one of the worst passing attacks in major college football — a surprising development, even with the Tigers having to rely on a later-arriving transfer quarterback and a lot of Group of Five/FCS transfers on offense.
The second half of the season, as everyone knows, looks more manageable for the Tigers. They don’t have to play another team that is an elite recruiter until the Iron Bowl. They’re going to have to overcome some gaps — particularly at quarterback — but these are much more winnable football games, starting Saturday night against a good but flawed Ole Miss team.
SP+ projections have Auburn as the favorite in three of its six remaining games: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and New Mexico State. Win the games you’re supposed to win, and Auburn will go to a bowl game. That, to me, was on-field priority No. 1 for what I’ve called a Year 0.5 for Hugh Freeze and his staff.
But there’s room to grab even more momentum. Ole Miss is around a touchdown road favorite at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Auburn really needs a competitive, four-quarter showing again at home Saturday night. Auburn would most likely be a home favorite against Arkansas right now, but playing in Fayetteville could change that up. And, of course, we know how Iron Bowls at home can go for Auburn when it has a pulse at the end of the season.
A 6-6 regular-season record is the most likely outcome for Auburn, according to the numbers. If — and this is a big if — the Tigers can find any sort of improvement on offense over the next few weeks, there’s definitely room to bump that up to 7-5. And, as I wrote before the season, an 8-4 record would mark a phenomenal year. It’s not impossible, but Auburn is much closer to missing a bowl than overachieving down the stretch. The offensive numbers against quality competition are just that rough.
As bad as it looked in College Station and Baton Rouge, Auburn still has a chance to pull off a solid first season under Freeze and build toward the future. From my perspective, the Tigers need to win two of their next three games to stay on track. And if they pull off the upset against Ole Miss on Saturday night, it changes the outlook of what Auburn could do down the stretch.
Now, let’s move over to basketball…
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