After the Auburn Tigers went 3-9 in 2012, everyone expected there to be changes made. With the hiring of former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Auburn's ability to retain elite prospects, however, the Tigers have improved more than expected.
So what bold predictions can we make about the upcoming season?
For starters, it's safe to say that the Tigers will be a better team. The question on everyone's mind, however, is how many wins will this team have?
The prediction here is a full four-game improvement to seven wins before the bowl season commences.
Auburn didn't win a single SEC conference game during during the 2012-13 season. Its biggest issue against in-conference foes was its undeniably inability to put points on the board.
If there's anything that coach Malzahn knows, it's how to find the end zone.
Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2010. In that time, Auburn went 30-10, won three bowl games and took home the 2010 BCS National Championship.
The Tigers also averaged 5,665 yards from scrimmage per season. That's a full 2005 more than the 3,660 Auburn produced without Malzahn in 2012.
The question is, who will benefit most?
Tre Mason Will Lead SEC in Rushing Yards
As a sophomore in 2012, running back Tre Mason ran for 1002 yards and eight touchdowns. This came on 171 carries, which equates to an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
In 2013, he will eclipse those numbers and lead the SEC in rushing yards.
Mason will see a greater workload with Onterio McCalebb headed to the NFL. More importantly, he will be playing for a head coach that is nothing short of an offensive mastermind.
The past suggests a bright future.
From 2009 to 2011, the Tigers were led by Malzahn as the offensive coordinator. In that time, they averaged roughly 579 rushing attempts per season.
In 2012, they ran it just 438 times—a full 141 attempts less than Malzahn's would prefer.
With Mason in the backfield, you can expect Malzahn to run the offense through his junior back. As a result, he will continue to break free in the open field and rack up the yards.
At season's end, he will lead the SEC in rushing yards.
Carl Lawson Will Out-Sack Robert Nkemdiche
Even as a freshman, you could make a case that Robert Nkemdiche is one of the best defensive ends in the nation. With that being said, Auburn's Carl Lawson isn't too far behind him.
When it comes to getting to the quarterback, look for Lawson to out-sack Nkemdiche and create a positional rivalry.
Lawson is not alone on the defensive line, as Auburn has three players along the front in the top five of their position. Lawson will be the star of this young group, attacking the backfield as Auburn draws up plays specifically designed for him to get after the quarterback.
Nkemdiche may be the better prospect, but Lawson will top him in the sack department.
Jeremy Johnson Will Be Malzahn's New Star
The Auburn Tigers have received a great deal of praise for their recruiting class. The focus of those offering up such approval has been directed towards the defensive side of the ball.
What we'd be remiss to ignore, however, is the fact that Auburn secured a stud at quarterback in Jeremy Johnson.
Johnson is a 6'5" pocket passer with respectable athleticism and mobility. We've already touched upon how brilliant of an offensive mind Gus Malzahn has proven to be.
Look for Johnson to be his latest prodigy.
This is not to say that Johnson will be the second-coming of Cam Newton. Instead, it's to compare him to another Malzahn star.
Ryan Appling of Arkansas State.
Applin threw for 3,342 yards and 24 touchdowns on a completion percentage of 68.0. Most impressively, he only threw four interceptions.
That's as much about Malzahn's schematics as it is Applin's decision-making.
Whether Johnson will begin the season under center is unclear. As the year progresses, however, Johnson will get more reps and he will emerge as a rising star at quarterback.
For a team that threw 15 interceptions in 2012, that would be a refreshing turnaround.
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