Most Important Storyline: Destiny or Dynasty?
"The Miracle on the Plains" and the "Kick Six" turned Auburn into a team of destiny last year, but is it more built to be a dynasty? That question will be answered this season, as head coach Gus Malzahn enters the 2014 campaign with a target on his back.
Whether you feel Auburn's success in 2013 was luck or skill, there's no denying that Malzahn can run the football. He's produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight season as a college head coach or assistant coach, and he has a stable of talented rushers to choose from, including Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant, "Roc" Thomas and quarterback Nick Marshall.
Marshall is key, because he was viewed as more of a running quarterback last year but spent the offseason focusing on becoming a better passer. If he can add an intermediate passing game to his ability on the ground and stretch the field deep, it's going to be really tough to stop that Auburn offense.
Biggest Question Mark: Defense
Auburn's secondary was more punchline than power last year, but there is talent and newfound depth to help the 2014 Tigers.
Jonathon Mincy is back at corner, and Jermaine Whitehead returns at safety, with several key pieces backing them up. Rudy Ford and Derrick Moncrief are vying for the boundary safety spot, Josh Holsey can play corner or safety and Jonathan Jones and Trovon Reed are battling for time at corner.
Those corners will benefit from a consistent pass rush, which Auburn should be able to provide with a versatile group of defensive linemen.
Carl Lawson will miss some or all of the season recovering from ACL surgery, but Gabe Wright can move outside to play end in specific situations, end Elijah Daniel can drop down to tackle in pass-rushing situations and Montravius Adams is a monster in the middle that can be a difference-maker.
If they can get pressure with four, it will allow athletic linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy to clean up and help the Tigers defense take the next step.
Toughest Game: at Alabama on Nov. 29
As is the case for Alabama, Auburn's toughest game is the Iron Bowl. Revenge will be on the mind of the Crimson Tide in a hostile environment in Bryant-Denny Stadium with the division title on the line. Compounding issues for Auburn, it could be heading to Tuscaloosa without momentum (more on that in a minute).
MVP: Quarterback Nick Marshall
Marshall is the first quarterback Malzahn has ever had as a college head or assistant coach who is returning for a second season in the system. With a specific focus on getting more consistent in the passing game, Marshall has the right coach, the right returning players (six of his top seven receivers) and a new toy in 6'2", 216-pound junior college transfer receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams.
We already know what Marshall can be like on the ground, and he has the perfect setup to be a star through the air as well.
Prediction: 11-1 (7-1 SEC), SEC West Champs, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Auburn will win the Iron Bowl and advance to the SEC Championship Game for the second straight season, but unlike 2013, the Tigers won't win it. Auburn will fall to a Georgia team that's loaded with weapons in Athens on Nov. 15 and then fall to the Bulldogs again in the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship Game.
Will that be enough to make the College Football Playoff? Two losses won't sit well, and it won't have a conference title to show off to the selection committee either.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.