Auburn is hoping for a better defensive performance this season with nine starters returning. The entire secondary comes back for another season and will hope to improve after finishing ranked eighth in the SEC in pass defense.
The secondary was one of the few bright spots last year, allowing only three teams to pass for 250 or more yards.
A similar effort will be needed this season if Auburn hopes to compete for a bowl game, as the defense will face some of the best quarterbacks the SEC has to offer. That includes last year's Heisman winner, a three-time national champion and a couple of other quarterbacks who are on the rise.
Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca are battling it out during the offseason for the starting quarterback job. Truthfully, it shouldn't matter to Auburn who wins the job, as the approach will be the same. Washington State is going to throw, throw and throw some more.
Head coach Mike Leach doesn't believe in a running game and would probably trade all of his running backs for more quarterbacks if he had the choice. Washington State rushed for 349 yards last season, which was by far the fewest in the country. It also led the nation with 624 pass attempts.
When an offense is averaging 52 throws a game, it is going to be challenging for a defense. There may be other quarterbacks on the schedule who are more talented, but Washington State's aerial attack is sure to keep Auburn on its toes.
Auburn nearly upset LSU last season (12-10) and managed to hold Zach Mettenberger to only 169 passing yards and zero touchdowns. The close game was one of the better defensive performances Auburn had all season.
However, the game was in the beginning of the season. Mettenberger improved his game drastically later in the year. He threw for more than 250 yards in three of the final five games and had four of his 12 touchdown passes in the final four games. Those numbers won't knock anyone out of their chair, but he was making drastic improvements as the season played out.
Mettenberger proved he has potential and should continue to show progress with Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. For once, Auburn must respect the LSU passing game.
Alabama winning the last two games against Auburn in convincing fashion wasn't an accident. The Tide had a lot more talent across the board than their in-state rival.
Quarterback AJ McCarron wasn't needed much in either game as he threw the ball 44 times, but he did combine for 400 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.
That's what breaks down a defense.
McCarron isn't going to throw the ball 30 or more times often, but he takes advantage of every throw he does attempt. Last season, he threw 30 touchdowns on only 314 passes and completed 67.2 percent of his throws.
Auburn has a lot to worry about when it plays Alabama, and it starts with McCarron.
Georgia has won the last two games against Auburn by exactly 38 points. In those games, Aaron Murray has thrown for 432 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's also completed at least 75 percent of his passes in both victories.
Needless to say, Murray has feasted on Auburn's defense in his career.
Overall, Murray is one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He's on pace to rewrite the SEC record book and already has more than 10,000 passing yards and 95 touchdowns in his three-year career. He has also been extremely consistent, topping 3,000 passing yards each season.
Auburn will have its hands full once again when Murray comes to town.
Auburn suffered one of its worst losses of the season in a 63-21 affair to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Oddly enough, Manziel had one of his more pedestrian games, throwing for 260 yards and rushing for 90 yards. However, it was his five touchdowns that sealed the Tigers' fate.
It's no secret what Manziel is capable of, and defensive coordinators have yet to come up with a game plan to slow him down. His playmaking ability is off the charts and it doesn't take much room for him to kill a defense with his legs. Last season, he had seven games of 100-plus rushing yards, including 229 rushing yards in the 41-13 AT&T Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Manziel remains the toughest quarterback to defend for any team unfortunate enough to face him this season—especially for an Auburn defense that has seen better days the last time it took the field.