Auburn Football: Gus Malzahn Will Have Tigers Competing Stronger Than Expected

John RozumCorrespondent IMay 14, 2013

Apr 20, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn watches his players on the field during their A-Day spring game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

New head coach Gus Malzahn will quickly turn the Auburn Tigers around for the better in 2013.

For starters, it can't get much worse coming off a 3-9 campaign last fall, including zero SEC victories.

Tigers fans have good reason for optimism, though. Malzahn's recruiting class ranked No. 14 on and tied for No. 8 on

After such a frustrating season in 2012, getting a strong recruiting class is quite impressive. Plus, Auburn was the only team ranked inside the top 15 that finished below .500.

Factor in Malzahn leading the Arkansas State Red Wolves to a record of 9-3 and a Sun Belt conference title. His team also went on to take the Bowl over Kent State 17-13 after he had joined Auburn.

Retreat further back to February of 2011 and's Chris Low had Malzahn listed as one of the SEC's best recruiters. Unsurprisingly, that trend held true with his current class.

Malzahn also made a great coaching move by reeling in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson shortly after he was hired. Johnson enters with plenty of previous SEC experience and believes Auburn's current defense has great potential.

As written by James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser, Johnson has set expectations:

Johnson was pleased with his squad after the conclusion of spring practice and believes the group he is inheriting is better than those he had in his first years at Mississippi State (2004) and South Carolina (2008).

“We made it clear to them it's going to be a new standard, and I think the reception has been good, the attitude has been good, the work habits have been good. We made a lot of progress,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing, I think, (is) there are more really good, solid SEC players on this defensive unit than were at either one of those two places I was at, especially the first year.

Now Auburn's 2013 schedule is quite brutal.

With the obvious tough matchups against LSU (away), Texas A&M (away), Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers' route to bowl season is in jeopardy. Other sound SEC contests versus Mississippi State and Ole Miss simply enhance the schedule's difficulty.

Fortunately, there is running back Tre Mason to rely on as he collected 1,002 rushing yards last fall and scored eight times. He also averaged 5.9 yards per carry, which maintaining that effectiveness will help set up the play-action pass.

Defensively, Auburn must get more production from Dee Ford up front. He recorded six sacks in 2012 but only 34 total tackles. The better Johnson's front line wins the immediate point of attack, the more Auburn wins on first and second down.

That then increases turnover opportunities for those in coverage regardless of the game situation.

In short, getting off the field on third down and minimizing turnovers offensively will have Auburn competing this fall. Combine that with a solid recruiting class and the Tigers are headed in the correct direction.