Nobody’s seat is hotter in SEC Country than Bryan Harsin’s leading the Auburn football team.

Nearly ousted after last fall, Bryan Harsin enters a critical year two at the helm of Auburn football.

Despite all the success he had leading Boise State and Arkansas State previously, Harsin felt like a fish out of water in year one down on The Plains. Recruiting our-kinda-guys is a great way to never beat the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M, three teams the Tigers have to play every single season. With expectations sky high, this may be a year of disappointment for Auburn.

However, coming in at No. 44 on FanSided’s Preseason Top 50 Rankings, the Auburn Tigers!

Auburn football 2021 season in review

After strangely firing former head coach Gus Malzahn after a 6-4 season in a COVID year, Auburn “successfully” hired Harsin away from Boise State. The Tigers’ offense combined to score 122 points in their first two victories of the season over Akron and Alabama State. While the road trip to State College was neat, Auburn still lost to Penn State, setting in motion what was to follow…

The Tigers would win their next two games over Georgia State and at LSU to improve 4-1 on the year and remain ranked. However, their early October drubbing at the hands of Georgia sent Auburn into a complete tailspin, causing them to lose six of their final eight games. Though Auburn had wins over ranked opponents at Arkansas and vs. Ole Miss, they fell in their final five contests.

Losing to Mississippi State and at South Carolina was bad. While falling in heartbreaking fashion to arch-rival Alabama in Harsin’s first Iron Bowl was commendable, scoring only 13 points in a very winnable Birmingham Bowl vs. Houston left an awful taste in everyone’s mouths. The Cougars may have been one of the better Group of Five teams, but this bowl was in Auburn’s backyard!

Previewing Auburn offense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (6): Tank Bigsby (RB), Shedrick Jackson (WR), John Samuel Shenker (TE), Nick Brahms (C), Keiondre Jones (RG), Brandon Council (LG)
  • Newcomer (1): Zach Calzada (QB)
  • Impact player: Tank Bigsby (RB)

A reason to be optimistic about the Tigers this year is they do return quite a bit of talent on the offensive side of the ball. They have at least six returning starters. While Shedrick Jackson and John Samuel Shenker highlight the receiving corps, their best returning player is all-conference running back Tank Bigsby. Nick Brahms, Keiondre Jones and Brandon Council all return as well.

Auburn may have a few newcomers to the offense, but none are as well-known as former Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada. Having served as Haynes King’s backup initially last year, he was the one to help the Aggies slay the Alabama dragon. That might be as good as it gets for him, but he returns a bit closer to his native Atlanta to compete for a starting job with the likes of T.J. Finley.

And it goes without saying, Bigsby is this team’s best player. On a team that might finish in last place in the deep SEC West division, Bigsby might have a thing or two to say about that. Playing behind an experienced offensive line with a new starting quarterback taking over for long-time starter Bo Nix, Bigsby is about to eat big time in what should be his fantastic final college season.

Previewing Auburn defense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (6): Colby Wooden (DE), Derick Hall (LB), Owen Pappoe (LB), Eku Leota (LB), Nehemiah Pritchett (CB), Donovan Kaufman (DB)
  • Newcomers (2): Jayson Jones (NT), Craig McDonald (SS)
  • Impact player: Owen Pappoe (LB)

As with the offense, the defense has about half a dozen returning starters from a year ago. The good news is the bulk of their returning starters are up front or coming off the edge. Those players would include Colby Wooden, Derick Hall, Eku Leota and the team’s best defensive player in Owen Pappoe. Nehemiah Pritchett and Donovan Kaufman are also returning to the Auburn secondary.

With plenty of former Auburn players finding their way to Orlando to reunite with Gus Malzahn on the UCF roster, that leaves open several spots for transfers to get opportunities on the Tigers defense. Though there are a few other newcomers on defense, the two biggest are nose tackle Jayson Jones coming over from Oregon and strong safety Craig McDonald, formerly of Iowa State.

Though Pappoe may not be as revered across the SEC as Bigsby is, he too is an all-conference-level playmaker for this particular Auburn team. The senior from Georgia will be a big reason why the Tigers have the potential to overachieve in what will likely be his final season down on The Plains. If Auburn is a tough football team, they can steal a win or two to be better than .500 or so.

Auburn football players awards watch for 2022 season

Six Auburn football players have found their names on awards watch lists for the 2022 season.

Tank Bigsby, Doak Walker, Maxwell, Hornung

Bigsby is in the mix to win several awards this season, including the Doak Walker, the Hornung and the Maxwell. He may not win all of these, but Auburn’s best offensive weapon could win one.

Nick Brahms, Rimington, Wuerffel

Brahms is on the Rimington watch list, as well as the Wuerffel Trophy. Being an experienced center is huge for Brahms on his quest towards winning the Rimington, as well as the Wuerffel.

Derick Hall, Bednarik, Lombardi, Lott, Nagurski

Hall is on the most awards watch lists of any Auburn player. The pass-rusher finds himself among the select few in the running for the Bednarik, the Lombardi, the Lott and the Nagurski this year.

Colby Wooden, Bednarik

Wooden too joins Hall on the Bednarik watch list. He may not be up for any of the other awards his two other Auburn defensive teammates are, but plenty of eyes will be on him in the trenches.

Owen Pappoe, Butkus

A healthy Pappoe should be on the shortlist to bring the Butkus to Auburn. It is an incredibly competitive award, but one routinely making its way down to SEC Country more often than not.

John Samuel Shenker, Mackey

Offensive leader Shenker is among those who could be up for the Mackey. While it would be shocking if a Georgia player is not the top tight end in the country, it is an honor to be mentioned.

Auburn football biggest game on 2022 schedule

Looking at Auburn’s 2022 regular-season schedule, we need to locate the game that could serve as the tipping point for how the Tigers’ season could go. Getting Penn State at home in September after narrowly losing in State College a year ago could theoretically serve as that game. However, Auburn will need a few conference wins if the Tigers want to be certain they are going bowling.

To be frank, the Tigers’ most winnable SEC game is their first at home vs. Missouri. If they do not win that game, it is about to be an unmitigated disaster down on The Plains. Assuming Harsin’s team takes care of business, the biggest game of the year for Auburn is the next one: Home vs. LSU on Oct. 1. The Tigers have to take advantage of it being Brian Kelly’s first year with his family.

From there, it gives the Tigers two conference wins and plenty of confidence to go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams on their SEC schedule. Even if they were to lose to Penn State again, being 2-0 in SEC play after the LSU date sets up Auburn nicely to rattle off two more conference wins, in addition to its three other non-conference victories: Mercer, San Jose State and Western Kentucky.

Auburn football best-case scenario

Auburn’s best-case scenario is to be slightly better than what it will take for Harsin to keep his job. Somewhere around 8-4 (5-3) should be that mark, but then again, this is the same university that ran Malzahn out of town after a 6-4 COVID season. He beat Alabama often enough, enough to the point where he should not be coaching Group of Five football over in Orlando, but it is what it is…

To set us up for failure and breathe these unrealistic expectations to life, let’s set aside the games Auburn is not winning this fall: The Tigers are not beating Georgia in Athens and they are not beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, period. If they do, there will be a movie starring an Academy Award-winning actor, paid for by YellaWood money. At best, they could go 10-2, but that is way too high.

Let’s say Auburn starts out the year at 5-0 with wins over Mercer, San Jose State, Penn State, Mizzou and LSU, all at home. These paper Tigers take their top-25 ranking into Athens and are slightly better than Dawg food vs. the defending national champs at their place. A bit of adversity in a big spot could help Auburn to upset Ole Miss in Oxford to get to 6-1 heading into their bye.

Even if they lose at Vaught-Hemingway, Auburn might be good enough to beat Arkansas at home, Mississippi State in Starkville and sneak one past Texas A&M at Jordan-Hare. Assuming a home win over Western Kentucky, Auburn could be 9-2 heading into the Iron Bowl for all we know…

However, the absolute best this team can do is 9-3 (5-3) with conference losses to Georgia, Alabama and one other SEC squad. It will be enough for Auburn to reluctantly keep Harsin around.

Auburn football worst-case scenario

How bad are we talking? It has been a decade since 2012, which is what it will smell like if it hits the fan for Auburn this fall. You start out 2-0 feeling good with wins over Mercer and San Jose State. In a tight ball game at home vs. Penn State, Auburn loses on a questionable call. The Tigers let that loss beat them again vs. Mizzou, and the wheels start to wobble in a weird LSU defeat.

So the Tigers go from 2-0 to 2-3 before awaiting certain death in Athens. If getting tarmac-ed in Athens is not a realistic possibility for Harsin, they might leave him at the Memphis airport like a lost FedEx package after a bad Ole Miss loss. Like Wilson, guess who’s not coming home? At 2-4 with an interim head coach before their bye, Auburn would be lucky to win even two more games.

This team is not devoid of talent to go 3-9 (0-8), but 4-8 (1-7) or 5-7 (2-6) are not ideal either…

Auburn football 2022 season prediction

No, Auburn is not going to be the worst team in the SEC (thank god for Vanderbilt). However, it is going to be awfully hard for that never-ending supply of YellaWood money to not go towards another GOB Bluth huge mistake of a head-coaching buyout. To be fair, this is what Auburn does. What is not fair is there being zero margin for error in only Harsin’s second season at the helm.

Realistically, Auburn will probably start the year out 4-1 with a loss at home to either Penn State or LSU. The Tigers likely lose back-to-back road games at Georgia and at Ole Miss. Regrouping after the bye, Auburn barbecues Sam Pittman’s Hogs before Mike Leach decides to raid some air again The cowbells will be clanging too loudly for the Tigers to think clearly to win two in a row.

With potential playoff dreams still alive for Texas A&M, the Aggies cannot afford to overlook Auburn in their November meeting. The Tigers will be needing one more game to achieve bowl eligibility again. Fortunately, they get Western Kentucky at home before getting trampled by elephants in the Iron Bowl, alright. Like s**t through a tin horn, Auburn is going bowling at 6-6!

Auburn football 2022 bowl game prediction

After a third straight six-win season, it will be the number of the beast for God’s favorite football team. He may not listen to Iron Maiden baby, but the only teenage dirtbags gracing the banks of the Cumberland River will be playing in the Music City Bowl. Auburn will face Kirk Ferentz’s Dawgs, as the Iowa Hawkeyes will do their best to make Harsin run for the hills after this bowl game loss.

Up next: No. 43: Louisville Cardinals

Other articles in this series:

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