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2021 Auburn college football preview: Tigers enter new era with Bryan Harsin

Auburn has limited expectations heading into the season, and sometimes that is when the Tigers are the most dangerous.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Auburn vs Northwestern Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn Tigers will begin a new era in 2021 with Bryan Harsin in charge. Auburn finished 6-5 last season and fired Gus Malzahn, who had been a staple on hot seat lists for years and heads to Oviedo to take charge at Central Florida. Harsin had great success in seven seasons at Boise State, and we’ll see if that will translate to the SEC where he does not have any experience.

Expectations are limited for this team heading into the season with a brutal schedule as it always is, and sometimes that is when Auburn is most dangerous as a program. This is a very talented team, but a new head coach is always a tough transition. Fortunately for the Tigers, they had a full offseason to prepare for what is coming.

2020 Season Review

  • 6-5, 6-4 SEC (3rd in West), Lost Citrus Bowl (35-19 vs. Northwestern)
  • Started the season 5-2, lost three of the last four, fired Gus Malzahn after the regular season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 19
ESPN Returning Production: 73% overall (54th): 73% offense (60th), 72% defense (62nd)
Returning Talent Index: 1.25, 6th in SEC
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 7/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Bo Nix (Junior)

Bo Nix came into college as a high-level quarterback recruit, but he has certainly not been set up for success at Auburn. He has not developed as much as Tiger fans had expected as he heads into his third season as the starter. Nix will lose his top three receiving targets from 2020 and is forced to learn a new system for the third consecutive season. This is a big year for him to prove he can elevate this program.

Offense (non-QB): RB Tank Bigsby (Sophomore)

With Nix’s athleticism and running back Tank Bigsby churning up yards, the strength of this Auburn offense will likely be their rushing attack. Bigsby was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. As a true freshman in 2020, he averaged six yards per carry with 834 yards and five touchdowns. If he can keep those numbers up, this would be a huge plus for Nix and the Auburn passing game.

Defense: FS Smoke Monday (Senior)

Auburn moved on from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and will go to Derek Mason, who was fired as the head coach at Vanderbilt. Defensively, the Tigers should be fantastic, and Smoke Monday figures to be one of the best safeties in the country. He finished with 73 tackles in 2020, and four went for a loss with a sack. Monday forced a fumble and picked off two passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 28th overall: 46th offense, 30th defense, 4th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 28th overall: 38th offense, 2nd defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +10000
To win SEC: +2200
Win total: 7 (Over +120, Under -152)

2020 Against The Spread: 5-6-0
2020 Point Total: Over 3-8-0

2021 Auburn Schedule

2021 Auburn Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Akron 7:00 pm/ESPN+ AU -37
Saturday, Sep. 11 Alabama State 12:00 pm/SECN N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 at Penn State 7:30 pm/ABC AU +7.5
Saturday, Sep. 25 Georgia State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at LSU TBA AU +7.5
Saturday, Oct. 9 Georgia TBA AU +9
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Arkansas TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 Ole Miss TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Texas A&M TBA AU +9.5
Saturday, Nov. 13 Mississippi State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 at South Carolina TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 Alabama TBA AU +16.5