Aubserver Mailbag 128: The best case, worst case and likely case for 2023
This week: Positional balance, fixing the ACC-SEC Challenge, court designs, the Braves, ice cream trucks and barbecue
WR Camden Brown (Auburn Athletics)
When the heat index gets to be around triple-digits, it can be hard to imagine that fall football weather will ever return.
That’s the feeling I had Thursday afternoon, when I stopped writing this mailbag and drove over to Auburn Network to do The Drive with Dan. Just walking to my car felt like a test of strength. I tested the full power of my air conditioning once inside.
But the funny thing is that I always think of the time around the Fourth of July as the offseason truly coming to an end — which means that football is right around the corner. Even though I feel like I’m literally melting, I know that SEC Media Days is just a couple of weeks away, which means that fall camp is coming soon.
Yeah, the weather will still be blazing hot. That’s probably going to be the case for Auburn’s opener against UMass and most likely for that Week 3 game against Samford.
Still, this has been one of the most eventful offseasons I can remember, so the whole thing feels like it’s flown by. The barrage of news and analysis involving Auburn football — and men’s basketball shortly thereafter — will crank back up in a few weeks, and we’ll be going full speed for months on end.
This week’s mailbag should get you looking ahead to the start of football and basketball season. We break down the range of scenarios for the 2023 campaign on the gridiron and fix what could have been a much better inaugural edition of the ACC-SEC Challenge in basketball, which will tip off in early November. There’s also a lot of fun offseason stuff toward the end involving the red-hot Atlanta Braves, my guy Orange Cassidy and some very important food topics.
Thanks as always for supporting The Auburn Observer. The summer months are usually a down time for subscriptions and engagement from readers and listeners. But we’ve got such a strong and dedicated foundation in the Inner Circle that I can keep plugging away this time of year without any fear. I haven’t been able to say that anywhere else in my sportswriting career.
What’s the best-case scenario for AU football if everything goes perfectly, everyone clicks and everyone stays healthy? And what’s the worst-case scenario if the opposite happens? And what’s the likely boring outcome?
Using the SP+ projections from last month, Auburn’s most likely record for the 2023 season is 7-5 (28.13%), followed closely behind by 6-6 (24.11%) and 8-4 (20.14%).
There’s a drop-off before you get to 5-7 (12.24%), and then there’s another one before you get to 9-3 (8.84%). All other records are at a less than 3.4% chance — not impossible, but they’re still outliers, based on what the Tigers’ schedule looks like.
How does that actually play out on the field? Here’s how I see it…
Auburn’s rebuilt offensive line clicks from the very beginning, giving plenty of space for a strong running back room to operate and arming the starting quarterback — either Payton Thorne or Robby Ashford — with the ground game he needs to maximize his talents. Defensively, Auburn generates a wide variety of pressures with Ron Roberts’ innovative defense to round out a group that is much improved against the run and rock-solid in pass coverage. The Tigers also have their best all-around special teams season in years, with strong kicking and much-improved returning.
Auburn races out to a 3-0 record and grabs a statement win in Week 4 on the road against a Texas A&M team that still has a lot to figure out. The Tigers split their next six games — most likely beating Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and either Arkansas on the road or Ole Miss at home. After a tune-up win over New Mexico State, Auburn continues its trend of good teams winning the Iron Bowl inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers then go for 10 wins in bowl season and get it, providing even more momentum for their red-hot recruiting.
Auburn’s reloaded receivers fail to separate themselves, putting even more pressure on a running game and a new-look offensive line to overcome it. Thorne puts up numbers very similar to his second season as a starter at Michigan State — or Ashford fails to progress as a passer. The Tigers’ defense struggles to rush the passer, which opens up an experienced secondary and makes it easier for opponents to run the ball. Injuries and inexperience plague Auburn’s first year of a new era.
Auburn still goes 3-0 against the smaller non-conference teams at home but drops a very winnable road trip at Cal in Week 2. The Tigers fail to get a signature win away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama and Georgia continue to show just how far ahead they are in lopsided home losses. Auburn has to heat up just to get back to a .500 record and make a bowl game, with a lot riding on the Mississippi matchups and the trips to Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The Tigers either just squeak back to 6-6 or struggle to their third straight losing season.
Boring Likely Case
Auburn takes a step forward on offense with the new talent and the new coaching staff, but it isn’t some sort of massive surge toward being one of the best attacks in the SEC. The Tigers show bright spots on that side of the ball but don’t have the consistency quite down just yet. On defense, the pass rush does fine with the talent at its disposal, and the run defense shows improvement without coming close to dominant. There’s a general Year 1 vibe of transition and building toward the future, pointing toward the need for great recruiting.
Auburn sweeps non-conference play but doesn’t beat any of the teams that have a clear-cut talent advantage in the SEC — Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU all take care of the Tigers. Auburn posts a winning record in the remaining games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, locking down a 7-5 record. It’s much-needed improvement and the end of the losing season streak, but it lacks a massive upset or anything to get the fans overly excited for the future.
Non-Boring Likely Case
Take the scenario I just presented in the last section and add a signature win over one of those four teams who are firmly ahead of the Tigers in the Blue-Chip Ratio. Getting just one upset victory of some kind — one that Hugh Freeze has had a knack for landing in his previous stops — could be a huge tonal difference in how fans view a Year 1. And that might just come down to a handful of plays or coaching decisions.
I wouldn’t be totally surprised at any of these scenarios. That’s what makes college football such a fun sport to cover, because the amount of possible outcomes are massive, year in and year out.
After all the transfers and signees are here, what positions on the football team lean towards oldest (least collective years to play left and so we will need more freshmen here) and which lean toward the youngest. And which position group has the perfect balance?