What to expect from the fall in Auburn athletics

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It sometimes feels as if Auburn athletics make the world turn on campus. Powered by the intense energy from the fans and inspired by the great athletes of old, sporting events at Auburn University can be some of the most exciting and influential undertakings for a young student. They can also be some of the most daunting.

There is an immense plethora of information and statistics that come with an Auburn game. To become fully immersed in the almost tangible spirit of the surrounding student section, it is helpful to become educated on the team in front of you. The fall is shaping up to be an exciting time for Auburn sports, as the promises of new potential and successes have fans looking forward to brilliant seasons.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

After the 2016-17 campaign, Auburn men’s basketball had completed the first winning season under now fourth-year head coach Bruce Pearl. However, the season finished on a decline, as the Tigers went from a sure-fire NIT contender to not making any sort of postseason tournament aside from the conferences. Auburn’s fate was due not in small part to their shortcomings in the SEC Tournament, dropping the opening game to conference bottom-feeder Missouri on a last-second buzzer beater.

Amid NCAA March Madness, Pearl made a guarantee to Auburn fans that the Tigers will be in the big dance in 2018. Auburn lost a few players to graduation and a few that transferred, but the Tigers will reload with an impressive recruiting class and an infusion of a talented junior college transfer in Malik Dunbar. Auburn consistently played one of the youngest rotations in the country, as Jared Harper, Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore all made significant impacts as freshmen. Those young Tigers will be a year older and year wiser, hungry for a postseason run.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Coach Flo’s squad made the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row in 2017, falling handily t North Carolina State in the first round. Like the men, the women’s team fell victim to a disappointing opening-round loss in the SEC tourney, losing to the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers consistently turned in some of the most impressive clips on the defensive end, recording high numbers of steals and takeaways. It was the offensive inefficiency that plagued Auburn in losses, however.

The Tigers will lose a trio of seniors in starters Katie Frerking and Brandy Montgomery, along with defensive specialist Khady Dieng. Although Auburn will be without the firepower of Frerking and Montgomery, the 2016-17 season saw younger players such as Janiah McKay and Tyra Johnson emerge as every night scorers. Up front, Auburn returns the Jones twins of Jazmine and Jessica. To succeed next season, Auburn will have to continue to play Coach Flo’s brand of basketball in order to compete in a league where the 2017 National Championship was between two behemoths from the SEC.

SOCCER

Coming off the best year in program history, a season in which Auburn reached the Elite 8 for the first time ever, the ladies of Auburn soccer want more. The 2017-18 brand of the team looks to continue their success with a fresh recruiting class and the experience that a deep postseason run brings. The Tigers graduate six talented seniors, however head coach Karen Hoppa recognizes their impact and the bar they set for the program.

“Our senior class, what an unbelievable career,” Hoppa said. “Not just this year, obviously, but the four years they’ve had here. They came in a time when we were rebuilding and every year we’ve gotten better. They’ve taken us to new heights and they’ve set new standards for Auburn soccer.”

FOOTBALL

New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey brings an interesting show to the Plains and Jarrett Stidham is the headliner. Stidham, the sophomore transfer quarterback from Baylor, impressed coaches throughout spring practices and impressed fans at Auburn’s annual spring A-Day game. Stidham looks to be exactly the solution that head coach Gus Malzahn needed, as last season’s quarterback situation lacked consistency and big-game ability.

On offense, the Tigers return the two-headed monster in the backfield of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson from the 2016-17 Sugar Bowl team. The offensive line will be bolstered by a pair of transfers from Jacksonville State and Florida State. Auburn returns a loaded receiving corps, which will include the lightning-fast John Franklin III, who was switched to receiver from quarterback by the coaching staff in the spring. Despite Stidham’s successes, Malzahn has not yet named a starter. 2016 starter Sean White and freshman phenom Malik Willis round out the depth chart after Woody Barrett left the team to transfer.

As the savior of many games for Auburn last season, the defense looks to improve upon a successful 2016 under Kevin Steele. The Tigers lost the defensive line anchors of Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, but reload with the emerging Kevin Holland, Byron Cowart, Marlon Davidson, Paul James III, Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell. Auburn only lost backup TJ Neal in the linebacking department. In the secondary, senior leaders Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey both heard their names called at the NFL Draft, therefore upcoming senior Tray Matthews will look to hold down the back end.

Across the board, Auburn will fill in holes on the roster with their No. 9 overall recruiting class. Expectations are high for this team, which hasn’t boded well for overhyped Auburn squads of the past. A rigorous schedule will uncap the potential of the team early on, as Auburn travels to defending national champion Clemson in the second week of the year in what is projected to be a Top 10 matchup. Auburn will host rivals Georgia and Alabama late in the season in pivotal SEC contests, rounding out a home slate that also includes Georgia Southern, Mercer, Mississippi State and Louisiana Monroe. The away schedule is highlighted by an intimidating stretch in which Auburn won’t return home for over a month following their showdown with Ole Miss. Aside from the defending champs, Auburn will take on Missouri, LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M on the road.

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