By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – The 2017 college football season is over, and for the second time in five years under Gus Malzahn, Auburn (No. 10) finished among the top 10 in the final AP poll.
It was a season that included 10 wins, wins over No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama, a division title and a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight year. But now it’s time to start looking ahead to next year, and with six starters returning on offense and seven back on defense, the expectation will be even higher for the Tigers in 2018.
Based on various "Way-Too-Early Top 25 projections" for 2018, it looks as though Auburn will have a team that should once again be in the mix for an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Sports Illustrated: No. 5
“Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is returning for his senior season, and after Auburn’s wins over 2017’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams, there’s no doubt the Tigers are for real. Keeping coach Gus Malzahn from bolting for Arkansas helps, but they’ll still have to replace key contributors in the running game and on defense.”
Sporting News: No. 8
“Gus Malzhan opted to stay at Auburn, and with good reason. There's enough talent on both sides of the ball to repeat as SEC West champions, and perhaps finish the job this time around. Jarrett Stidham is back, but leading rushers Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are gone and the defense loses Jeff Holland and Carlton Davis to the NFL. The Tigers do have to travel to Tuscaloosa and Athens this time around.”
Athlon Sports: No. 9
“Auburn ended Alabama’s three-year run at the top of the SEC West in 2017. Can coach Gus Malzahn’s team make it two in a row? This team has enough to knock off the Crimson Tide once again, but trips to Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama form a challenging road slate. Additionally, the opener against Washington won’t be easy.”
Yahoo Sports: No. 9
“QB Jarrett Stidham said he was coming back to the Tigers, though given the loaded quarterback draft class already it’s not much of a surprise. The run game will depend on Kam Martin after the departures of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway to the NFL. But all of Auburn’s wide receivers are back for another season with Stidham and the defense should be good once again. Auburn is poised to be the top challenger to Alabama again.”
ESPN: No. 12
“The Tigers will miss Johnson, who ran for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns this past season, and Pettway, who also is turning pro. They'll also have to replace four of five starters on the offensive line. With quarterback Jarrett Stidham returning, along with most of his top wideouts, the Tigers should have a potent passing game.
“On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has built one of the better units in the SEC, but they'll miss Holland's pass-rushing skills and Davis' coverage skills.”
USA Today: No. 13
“Auburn already has been dinged by losses to the NFL, though retaining quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a huge development. An issue is the Tigers’ schedule, which includes first-half dates with Washington, LSU and Mississippi State, and road games in November against Georgia and Alabama.”
CBS Sports: No. 15
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: