Aubserver Mailbag 101: Salute the Seniors
This week: Roster management, bowl chances, OC candidates, basketball rotation, best lineups, Allen Flanigan, ice cream flavors, Christmas music and more
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Even though they were honored on the field for their last game in Jordan-Hare Stadium three weeks ago now, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about Auburn football’s seniors.
The 2022 Tigers were veteran-led, especially along the line of scrimmage. And while they didn’t achieve the successes they thought they might have gotten when they signed up for another season of football here, I don’t think Auburn makes it through the interim period under Cadillac Williams as well as it did without all that experience.
As Williams said after the Western Kentucky game, which was after the last time I wrote a mailbag, these seniors went through their entire world being turned upside down multiple times while they were on the Plains.
History won’t remember them for a sparkling win-loss record. But a lot of people should remember them around here for what they did for the program. Auburn football is at another crossroads after the hiring of Hugh Freeze and the impending start of a 12-team College Football Playoff, plus a 16-team SEC.
No matter what happens next and who’s all in charge, the Tigers are in a better spot than they should have been because of the people inside the program — people like these seniors.
As you might imagine, this week’s mailbag starts with questions about these seniors. Then we get into some more roster management and staff change questions heading into another new era of Auburn football. There’s also a lot of good early-season stuff from our subscribers about basketball in the back half of the mailbag before we launch into our annual Christmas music discussions.
Thanks, as always, for continuing to support the Auburn Observer. It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the last month of 2022 — but it’s going to be one of our busiest times yet. Let’s go.
1. Since we've most likely seen the final game from these seniors, barring a pretty crazy upset or some really weird circumstances playing surrounding UNLV that would lead to a bowl appearance, who are some names of guys currently on the roster that we might be able to expect play a role in reloading the senior-heavy position groups or other spots where seniors played a significant role?
2. Also, what's been your favorite and/or funniest moment that you’ve seen from one of these seniors in your time covering them, whether it be something with their play on the field or a moment in a press conference?
Let’s start by addressing Auburn’s chances at accepting a bowl bid at 5-7. If there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill out all the slots, 5-7 teams are taken by NCAA APR (Academic Progress Rate). Auburn is currently No. 3 among 5-7 teams in APR, behind Rice and UNLV. According to Brett McMurphy, 5-7 UNLV would accept a bowl bid if offered, even though it just made the surprising decision to fire head coach Marcus Arroyo this week.
There are three bowl spots left. Buffalo can get one of them with a win over heavy underdog Akron later this week. New Mexico State is seeking a waiver to get in at 5-6, since its game against San Jose State was canceled following the death of a Spartans player. If approved, they would get a spot, followed by Rice. If NMSU is denied, then Rice and UNLV would get the last two spots.
That means Auburn’s shot at a bowl bid seems to hinge on Akron upsetting Buffalo, then New Mexico State (or UNLV) not getting one. At that point, I would expect Auburn to evaluate player interest and availability for a bowl game before making a final decision. So, as James says, it’s likely that Auburn’s 2022 season is over.
To answer James’ first question, the position groups with the most seniors are offensive line, followed by the edge rusher spots and some of the depth on the interior defensive line.
Up front, Auburn has a couple of non-seniors with starting experience in Keiondre Jones and Jeremiah Wright. They would prevent a total reset at guard if they came back. Tate Johnson was the starting center before his season-ending injury, so don’t forget about him. Tackle is thinner, with Colby Smith currently the only youngster who has made a two-deep. Avery Jernigan, Garner Langlo and E.J. Harris are the other non-seniors to know.
On the edge, it starts and ends with Dylan Brooks, who saw his playing time increase in the second half of the season. Joko Willis only played in a couple of games on defense, and it’s unclear what his role would be in a new scheme. Needless to say, the Tigers really need transfer portal help here.
To answer the second question, I’m going to really miss covering the combo of Derick Hall and Colby Wooden. Their back-and-forth in post-game press conferences — with Wooden and Hall interviewing each other over the last few weeks of the season — reminded me a lot of how Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson were during their time here. Both guys are top-notch dudes, and I hope they have long and extremely successful NFL careers.
With the coaching change, will the lack of bowl practices be a setback?
I personally don’t think bowl practices are as make-or-break as they used to be for a team, especially after a coaching change. There’s so much work that has to be done right now in building the new staff, evaluating the roster and then going to work on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal.
Needless to say, this Auburn team is going to look a lot different in 2023 than it did in 2022. There’s probably going to be a ton of roster turnover, both incoming and outgoing. If the players want to play a bowl game and they get that chance, then they should take it. But I don’t think it’s going to be the worst thing in the world if Auburn got to totally focus on its future.
With Freeze contemplating not calling plays, who would be the top 3-5 OC candidates he could target?