Does Auburn have what it takes to topple Alabama in 2019?
HOOVER, Ala. — In an SEC Media Days that has been riddled with mentions of ‘Alabama’ and ‘Crimson Tide’, Thursday’s interview sessions with Auburn players and head coach Gus Malzahn were strangely silent on their bitter rival.
In fact, Malzahn mentioned the word ‘Alabama’ only once during his Media Days interviews, and only when he was going through the Tigers’ upcoming schedule.
“And then we end it with Georgia and Alabama, both at home, and of course two years ago that worked out pretty good,” Malzahn said.
Pretty good, perhaps, but Malzahn seems to have conveniently forgotten which two teams played for the national championship later that season.
Auburn players were quiet about the Crimson Tide as well. While SEC coaches typically bring skill players to speak with reporters, Malzahn had three linemen with him for this year’s interviews: senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown, senior defensive end Marlon Davidson, and senior offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho.
Malzahn revealed his intentions behind bringing the linemen to Hoover, stating that he believes that they're among the strongest elements of this year’s Tigers.
“I do feel like our offensive line will be a strength,” Malzahn said. “This time last year I think we had 16 starts between the whole group. So you go through growing pains, and you do that in this league. And that group got beat up and a lot of blame and all this. And when you go through adversity as a group, you either fold your tent or you roll your sleeves up. That’s what that group did.
“They are a confident group. We can make adjustments. Real pleased going into the season with that offensive line.”
Malzahn also expressed his confidence in the team, going so far as to say that they have a chance to make a championship run.
“You’ve got a chance,” Malzahn said. “I will tell you this: we have a chance. I mean, the makeup of our team and all that. I don’t think every team in our league can say that, but we have a chance.
“With that being said, you’ve got to win close games. You’ve got to stay healthy. There’s a lot of variables, but when you’re sitting here this day and time in the season, you can at least say you’ve got a chance.”
So that left the big question: Does Auburn have what it takes to beat Alabama this season?
The short answer is not likely, at least not on paper.
Alabama comes back with a hungry Tua Tagovailoa who many believe deserved the Heisman Trophy last year. Jerry Jeudy returns for his junior season, with a Biletnikoff Award in his trophy case. Alongside Jeudy is Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith, who together form one of the most lethal wide receiver corps in college football.
And let’s not forget Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr., and the rest of the solid Alabama running backs.
Dylan Moses, Anfernee Jennings and a healthy Terrell Lewis return for the Crimson Tide defense. Trevon Diggs is back from injury, and Xavier McKinney is looking to make an impact after a major 2018 season.
All-around, Alabama could be a better team that last year, when it defeated Auburn 52-21 and returned to the College Football Playoff. Have the Tigers improved so much to catch the Crimson Tide?
Barring something like another Kick-Six miracle on The Plains, it seems unlikely, and probably why the Tigers didn't say much about the Crimson Tide here.
Auburn typically surprises its fan base and the nation when they have the lowest expectations and those seasons could certainly qualify. Malzahn says this year's team could be something special. At least, that what he says he believes.
Auburn has four months to prove him right.