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With the spring game over and preparations for the 2022 season well underway, there are quite a few mysteries surrounding Auburn football for this coming season.
With Bryan Harsin’s second year, a quarterback competition, departures on the defense and a wide receivers group that is coming into its own, the Tigers have quite a few questions to answer and problems to solve before playing their first game against the Mercer Bears on Sept. 3. We picked out 12 of those questions here at Auburn Wire for our staff to answer in an effort to predict just where the pieces will fall in the Plains.
Check it out below:
Will Bryan Harsin survive 2022?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
It is really difficult to see Bryan Harsin surviving the season after the coup that took place in February. The writing is on the wall and something we have seen before with Auburn. However, winning cures all, and securing a top recruiting class does as well. When the dust settles, I believe that the boosters will get their way again and Harsin will likely be gone before the season ends, unfortunately. – Patrick Conn, Regional Editor
Absolutely not. There was far too much smoke this offseason to not be a fire somewhere, and simply put, I don’t think Harsin has improved the roster enough to make a particularly stellar showing in an effort to keep his job at the end of this year. What should be pitiful QB play and some mass exoduses on the defensive side of the ball will ensure that Bryan Harsin has his last dance on the Plains this year. – River Wells, Contributor
Barring a miraculous season I do not expect him to be back. Surviving the attempting coup was impressive but I do not see this roster having enough talent to win enough to calm the boosters who clearly do not have his back. If Auburn can win enough and build a great recruiting class he has a chance to be retained, but neither of those seem likely. – JD McCarthy, Contributor
With everything that Bryan Harsin has to endure in his first two seasons, I don’t see the light at theend of the tunnel getting much brighter. The Tigers have lost a plethora of players to both the NFL Draft or to the transfer portal. Several of the key players that transferred were [autotag]Bo Nix[/autotag], [autotag]Kobe Hudson[/autotag], and [autotag]Lee Hunter[/autotag]. The recruiting class doesn’t provide much light either. I just feel like Harsin’s inability to bring in some of the more elite talent is what will ultimately be his downfall. I don’t see Auburn having enough “game changers” to improve enough from last season for Harsin to stay for another year. – Brody Smoot, Contributor
Which incoming freshman will impress the most?
Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics
Given the questions at wide receiver, I am going with the freshman wide receiver from Rockwall, Texas, Jay Fair. He should have an opportunity to work his way into the wide receiver rotation relatively early on. – Conn
Kickers are people, too. Longtime Plains staple Anders Carlson had a rough go of things last year, kicking at a 66.7 percent clip. The Tigers recently signed the best kicker in the nation, Alex McPherson, and expect him to add some stability in the kicking game where I have a feeling Auburn will be needing it. – Wells
McPherson is a solid candidate but I’m going to take cornerback J.D. Rhym. He had an impressive spring and looks like the No. 2 nickel corner and should have chances to create some big plays. – McCarthy
Auburn’s biggest area of concern over the years has been the wide receiver room. I feel like Omari Kelly will take a step in the direction for Auburn. The coaching staff would certainly love to see a wide receiver take the reigns at the wide receiver position. I feel like the native of Trussville, Alabama will provide a much-needed boost this upcoming season. – Smoot
Will Auburn be able to capitalize on a loaded 2023 recruiting class in Alabama?
I think this is about as good a time as any to recruit the state. But simply put I will say no they won’t capitalize in the way that we should expect. Mostly due to Harsin’s status as the head coach. Did the attempt to get him out of Auburn do damage to his standing with high school recruits in the state? That’s my biggest concern. – Conn
I’m not so sure. Part of maximizing recruiting talent is a big part of a coaching skillset, and I’m not particularly high on Bryan Harsin. Given the multiple controversies and accusations against him in the offseason, I wouldn’t expect Harsin and his (new) staff to really maximize the talent from this recruiting class. – Wells
I think they will land some talented players but not as many as they would like. It is incredibly easy to paint Auburn negatively right now to recruits and I don’t think Harsin and the rest of the staff will be able to overcome that. Auburn’s best chance will likely include some impressive early-season wins and turning that momentum into commitments. – McCarthy
The problem here is the team from the other side of the state— Alabama. Majority of the elite players from the state elect to play for the Crimson Tide. However, we did see the Tigers flip linebacker [autotag]Robert Woodyard [/autotag]just a year ago. Personally, I feel like it will be tough. However, I do feel like Auburn will grab a few of the in-state products. My biggest concern is whether or not Auburn’s staff will be in-tact after the 2022 season. I think that plays a huge part in what the top players in the state decide to do. – Smoot
Which transfer will have the largest impact this upcoming season?
AP Photo/Andy Nelson
I think when you look at the transfers you immediately think of the quarterbacks with Zach Calzada and Robby Ashford. However, I am going to go a different route here. My pick is D.J. James. The team lost their best CB in Roger McCreary and hopefully, the loss will be lessened by the impact of James. – Conn
Zakoby McClain was a large boon for Auburn’s linebacking corps. With him gone, I’m excited to see how Eugene Asante fits into the group after transferring from North Carolina. Defense wins championships, as they say, and if Asante can help put together a strong defense for Bryan Harsin, he just might live another day. – Wells
Jayson Jones has the potential to unlock another level for Auburn’s defensive line and is my pick. He has the size to draw multiple blockers, freeing up the rest of the defensive lineman to win one-on-one matchups. The defense is undoubtedly the strength of this team and his addition could take them to another level. – McCarthy
It isn’t every day that you see an elite player on the back end like DJ James enter the transfer portal. That happened this offseason and the Tigers’ coaching staff took full advantage of that. The former Oregon starter recorded 70 tackles and 2 interceptions in three seasons. It is also worthy to note that he is an Alabama native. Therefore, it likely means a great deal to the Mobile product. I’m expecting a great season from James. – Smoot
Will Tank Bigsby return to freshman form?
Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
Tank Bigsby burst onto the scene as a freshman and last year seemed to be a setback based on his yards per carry numbers. If the offensive line can improve from a year ago, I think Bigsby has a big season. – Conn
This will all depend on the offensive line and the scheme Harsin will bring in year two. I think Bigsby has a lot of natural talent, but I’d also expect both the offensive line to be a big question mark and the run game to outweigh the passing game in play selection due to poor QB play. If that second thing happens, I would guess Bigsby doesn’t have quite as big a year. – Wells
This is more about the offensive line than it is about Bigsby. His production dropped off last season but there was a clear link between the play of the offensive line and how quickly Bigsby was getting hit. I think he will still look impressive but the poor offensive line play will hinder his production. – McCarthy
If it is going to happen, the time is now. Auburn will return four of its’ starters from just a year ago. Bigsby certainly has the capability to have a better junior season than he did in his freshman season. The transfers from this offseason and the likelihood for indecisiveness with play-calling early on, I look for Auburn to really feature Bigsby early on in the season. – Smoot
Which Tigers skill position player will score the most touchdowns this season?
AP Photo/Butch Dill
Skill position-wise, I am going to go with Shedrick Jackson. I think the passing attack will be a little better from a touchdown production standpoint. Jackson will have ample opportunities given that he is the best returning receiver in the group and should be a priority in the passing game. – Conn
I’ll take a flyer on Malcom Johnson Jr. He had a touchdown in the spring game (that might not have counted in a real game, to be fair) and I think he has the large-enough frame to be a solid option in the red zone for whoever may end up throwing the football for the Tigers. – Wells
I’m a firm believer in Landen King and think he has a chance to be Auburn’s top receiving option this season. It frankly does not matter if he is listed as a wide receiver or tight end. He is a tough matchup for defenders and he should be a frequent target of the quarterback. – McCarthy
This may sound a little sketchy, but I’m going to ride with Jarquez Hunter. I was really impressed with Hunter’s running style and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. It is obvious that he can make something happen outt of nothing. I believe that he is more of a homerun threat out of the backfield than Bigsby is. Although he is currently injured, he should be back by the start of the season. I look for him to have an increased role and truly thrive this season in Eric Kiesau’s offense. – Smoot
How will Landen King be used?
AP Photo/Vasha Hunt
Landen King could be a wildcard for the offense this season. While he is listed as a tight end, I could see him playing plenty as a big slot receiver or out wide in the red area. All 26 of his pass reps last year came from the slot and I think that might be his role this year too. – Conn
King played mostly out of the slot last year and I see no reason why that would change. Auburn is a question mark at receiver, too, and I suspect Bryan Harsin will want a little more consistency in that room as the season begins — that is where King comes in. – Wells
Auburn’s offense needs a receiver to step forward and I believe King is that player. He should spend plenty of time in the slot but Auburn needs to experiment with him in other positions to take advantage of his potential. – McCarthy
The Tigers have seen there share of predominantly blocking tight ends over the years. Players like Jay Prosche and Phillip Lutzenkirchen were mainly used for blocking purposes. However, that changed last season as tight end John Samuel Shenker led the Tigers in receptions. I look for King to be used even more than Shenker this season. I would expect Auburn to use King in kind of a Evan Engram type way where he is split out wide and used to block in some packages. – Smoot
Who will step up and take the reigns as WR1?
AP Photo/Butch Dill
Easily Shedrick Jackson for me. As I stated in the touchdown question, I believe that it is Jackson’s time to shine. – Conn
I also have already mentioned Malcom Johnson Jr., so I’ll stick with that. – Wells
I’ll take Shedrick Jackson as well. He’s the player with the most experience and that matters. – McCarthy
The player that I am going to go with is a darkhorse– Tar’varish Dawson. His speed and ability to create seperation will likely get him a lot of tocuhes. – Smoot
Who steps up to replace Roger McCreary?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
I think it really comes down to Nehemiah Pritchett, who will be the best cornerback for the Auburn defense. He can be a bit of a swiss army knife with the ability to play inside and out, as well as make plays on the ball. – Conn
Nehemiah Pritchett both has the experience and the skillset to step right into the role of CB1. Replacing McCreary will certainly be no easy task, but if anyone does it, it will be someone who has been in the rotation who has played with him and someone who has a high potential — Pritchett ticks both boxes. – Wells
Pritchett is my choice as well. He has been Auburn’s No. 2 corner the past two seasons and it’s his time to shine. – McCarthy
The player that I think will replace McCreary is DJ James. He has starting experience in the PAC 12. He also has great size and length to cover some of the best wide receivers around the SEC. I think the productivity that Auburn has seen from the Mobile area over the years will continue. James will be one of the best cover corners in the conference. – Smoot
Will Auburn end the year bowl eligible?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Looking at last year’s team, they were a bit more talented and they barely backed their way into a bowl game against Houston. The number of questions surrounding this team and the No. 1 toughest schedule in the country will be working against them. I have to say no on this one. – Conn
No. Asking Auburn to win three Power Five games this season could be a tall order. The Tigers play a lot of teams that were pretty good last year and play some others, like LSU, who could be on the mend after a reboot of the coaching staff. I don’t see it happening for Bryan Harsin and his squad, and I think this is one of the reasons he gets fired. – Wells
No. As it does every year, Auburn once again has one of the toughest schedules in the country. There are too many question marks about the roster and the coaching staff for me to predict them to be bowl eligible. – McCarthy
No. I just don’t see Auburn fending off some of the higher-ranked opponents like they have done over the years. The question marks surrounding the quarterback position is a huge concern that I feel like will loom throughout the season. If the Tigers find a quarterback that solidifies himself as QB1, things could very well be different. However, I just don’t see it happening. – Smoot
Will the starting quarterback week one finish the season as the starter?
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Many feel like this is going to be Zach Calzada’s job but after the spring game, I felt more comfortable with Holden Geriner and Robby Ashford. We haven’t seen Calzada get a fair shake as of yet but if last year taught me anything it is that Harsin isn’t afraid to pull his quarterback if needed. I don’t see the day one starter remaining if he struggles at any point in the season given what is at stake for the head coach. – Conn
No. I covered the spring game and had a lot of good things to say about Holden Geriner, and I think Auburn will turn to him in an effort to ignite a spark after who will presumably be Zach Calzada struggles through the halfway point. Expect to see the freshman quarterback close out the year. – Wells
No. I’m not high on any of the quarterbacks o the roster for next season, part of that is about them and part is about the surrounding cast. I expect the starter to struggle and the coaching staff turns to another option in an attempt to spark the offense. – McCarthy
No. Auburn seems to always struggle at finding any kind of consistency in the quarterback room. With the recent additions to the coaching staff this offseason, I think their will be some early gowing pains at the position. I expect Auburn to start Finley but turn to Ashford by the end of the season. He is a in-state kid that is good on both his legs and through the air. He will find a way to get on the field. – Smoot
Will Auburn be able to replace Zakoby McClain?
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Replacing Zakoby McClain is no small task but if there is anyone that could take on that job, it’s probably Eugene Asante. He just needs time to get acclimated to Jeff Schmedding’s defense. – Conn
As I mentioned previously, Eugene Asante is stepping into the linebacker role from North Carolina and I think the former four-star recruit could do some damage in that backfield in McClain’s stead. – Wells
No, Owen Pappoe will have a great season but he is much more of a do-it-all player than McClain, who was all about wracking up tackles. This does not mean the unit will be a weakness, I just do not expect one player to replace McClain’s production, this will be more about everyone stepping up. – McCarthy
Yes. I feel like Owen Pappoe will finally prove why he is one the highest-rated recruits to ever step foot in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Injuries plague him last season causing him to miss a lot of time. However, in 2020 he recorded 93 tackles and 4 sacks. If Pappoe can play similar to that in 2022, he will be the leader on the Tigers’ defense. I fully expect him to fill McClain’s footsteps. – Smoot