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SEC Football Q&A: How Will Auburn Do in 2013 Under Head Coach Gus Malzahn?

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnJosh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 17, 2013

Every Thursday on The SEC Blog, we will feature questions from the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter and email. 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @BarrettSallee or at bsallee@bleacherreport.com.

 

You've got SEC questions, and I've got SEC answers. Thank you, everybody, for your questions this week. And if I didn't get to them this week, they are still saved and will be used in the future.

And we're off:

@barrettsallee How well do you expect Auburn to do next season under new HC Malzahn?

— Kirk Strait (@KirkStrait) January 17, 2013

It certainly won't finish 3-9, that's for sure.

I expect Auburn to contend for a bowl game in Year 1 of the Gus Malzahn era, which would be a marked improvement for the Tigers.

Malzahn took over an offense that averaged 302.3 yards per game in 2008 to finish the 2009 season—his first as Auburn's offensive coordinator—with the SEC's second-best offense at 431.8 yards per game with essentially the same personnel.

He has to find a quarterback, which will be an issue. But among Kiehl Frazier (who was recruited for his system), Jonathan Wallace, junior college signee Nick Marshall or class of 2013 commitment Jeremy Johnson, somebody should be able to step up and at least be efficient.

The biggest question is on defense, where new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have to get the most out of a talented, yet underachieving bunch. But with eight starters returning on defense, Johnson will have plenty of experience to work with.

If the defense can be opportunistic, that may be all Auburn needs to be competitive considering Malzahn's ability to direct a functional offense.

The key games for Auburn are on Sept. 14 vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 2 at Arkansas and Nov. 9 at Tennessee. If it can win two of those three, it'll be in a bowl game for sure.

 

@barrettsallee How does Ole Miss legitimately get more 5 stars than Bama on NSD

— Shane (@lumbar_shane) January 17, 2013

Well, they don't right now. Alabama has four 5-star commits in the latest 247Sports.com team rankings, while the Rebels have just two with the recent commitment of 5-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. However, there's no doubt that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff have been recruiting their tails off.

Freeze has been selling things that are attractive to prospects: playing time and pride in the program. That could pay dividends down the stretch, with the Rebels being squarely in the mix for defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner—both of whom have earned 5-star designation from 247Sports.com.

That would get them tied with the Tide as long as Alabama doesn't get any more 5-star prospects between now and national signing day and would indicate that Ole Miss isn't just the "flavor of the month," but a recruiting force that the rest of the SEC should keep an eye on.

Freeze was the right coach at the time for Ole Miss and he's paying almost immediate dividends.

 

@barrettsallee Biggest non-conference game for the league next year

— Nameless Jobhunting (@BDFTBLStandard) January 17, 2013

A lot of people will say Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game simply because Alabama is involved. The end-of-the-season rivalries will also always be entertaining. But due to where it falls on the schedule and what it means for both programs, I'll go with the Georgia vs. Clemson game at Death Valley in Week 1.

Why?

Well, it's simple. I want to know what kind of defense Georgia has after losing four defensive line contributors, two stud linebackers and four members of the secondary.

All of that roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball against an offense like Clemson's that's returning quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins will make this game wildly fascinating and tell us a lot about where Georgia stands as a defense.

Should be a lot of fun.

 

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