Ranking the defenses that Auburn will face in 2022

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The Auburn football program has had its’ shares of both ups and downs over the years.

It just seems like Auburn is really good on one side of the ball and not so good on the other side. This season is crucial for the future of the program as well as the future for the people in charge. If Auburn can create consistency on both sides of the ball, they could very well see a turnaround from their 6-7 record just a season ago.

Auburn will certainly have to click on all cylinders in 2022 as their schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Tigers will begin the season at home for the first five games before hitting the road for the next two games against Georgia and Ole Miss. Then, the team will have to face ascending programs like Arkansas and Texas A&M as well as rival Alabama in the last five games on the schedule.

Coach Harsin and his staff hope that his team is up for facing some of the more premier defenses in all of college football. With a new offensive scheme and some new faces, we will see what the Tigers are able to do.

Auburn Wire ranks the defenses that Auburn will face in 2022.

Mercer Bears

[Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Mercer certainly has kept it close with several powerhouse programs over the years. The Bears held the Crimson Tide to 158 rushing yards just a season ago. Auburn fans will remember back in 2017 when the Bears gave the Tigers all they could handle. They gave up more than 500 yards but held the Tigers to just 24 points.

Last season, they gave up just 327.5 yards per game. They ranked No. 20 among the best defenses in the FCS. The team will return several key players on the defensive side of the ball like — Lance Wise (starting safety), Isaac Dowling (starting linebacker), and Michael Campbell (starting cornerback). In comparison to the other teams on the schedule, I have to put the Bears at No. 12. Their defense will be good, but not as imposing as the other defenses that Auburn will play.

San Jose State Spartans

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San Jose State had a rough season last year on the defensive side of the ball. The Spartans allowed 26.5 points per game while giving up 371.3 yards per game on average. The Mountain West has some good teams, but none of them are elite by any means.

When the team makes the trip from San Jose in week two of the season, they better bring their “A” game. They’ll need it if they want to slow down the Tigers. They are led by Kyle Harmon (Gr.), Nehemiah Shelton (Gr.), and Viliami Fehoko (Jr.).

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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The Hilltoppers have always been a sleeper mid-major program. Their defense lost leading tacklers DeAngelo Malone and Antwon Kincade. The rest of the defense will have to fill their shoes if they have any hopes of having a successful season in Bowling Green.

Last season, they finished with a 9-5 record and finished first in Conference USA. This season they have to face Hawaii, Indiana, and Auburn. Their offense will likely be good as always, but the defense needs to improve to have a chance with those programs. The defense will be led by Jaden Hunter (R-Sr.), AJ Brathwaite Jr. (R-Jr.), and Kahlief Hailassie (R-Jr.).

Missouri Tigers

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Missouri is the first SEC team that cracks the list. The Tigers gave up 434.1 yards per game a season ago. The defense also lost leading tackler Blaze Alldredge. The two don’t gel well for the Tigers to have much success on the defensive side of the ball this season.

However, the defensive staff brought in seven transfers on that side of the ball this off-season. If the defense is able to turn things around in 2022, the Tigers may very well be a sleeper team in the SEC. Several key players returning are Jaylon Carlies (Jr.), Martez Manuel (Sr.), and Chad Bailey (Sr.).

Ole Miss Rebels

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Ole Miss certainly had a disappointing season on the defensive side of the ball. The Rebels allowed right at 25 points per game and allowed 420.4 yards per game. Defensive coordinator DJ Durkin couldn’t establish the type of defense that the Rebels’ fans would have loved to see on the field.

With Coach Kiffin implementing a co-defensive coordinator philosophy, it just seems too far-fetched to be that successful in year one. It may very well be. However, I have the Rebels ranked as the No. 8 defense on the Tigers’ schedule. Players like A.J. Finley (Sr.) and Otis Reese (Sr.) will look to lead the new “Landshark” defense in 2022.

Arkansas Razorbacks

(AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Arkansas has always seemed to have a very physical defense. Players like Bumper Pool (Gr.) and Jalen Catalon (R-Jr.) have taken in that role on the Hogs’ defense the last few years. It seems like the defense doesn’t gel as the coaching staff wants it to though. In 2021, Arkansas gave up 367.6 yards per game on average. They will undoubtedly have to create more turmoil on that side of the ball this season.

The SEC West is getting stronger each and every year it seems. Head coach Sam Pittman has done some work in the transfer portal and the recruiting classes he has brought in. The Razorbacks could easily be a top-three team in the conference if both sides of the ball mesh well this upcoming season. It is just a matter if they will or not.

Penn State Nittany Lions

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

James Franklin and his Nittany Lions sit at the No. 6 spot in the rankings. Although the team loses its’ two leading tacklers, Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks, it will still return several key players. Players like Ji’Ayir Brown (Gr.), Curtis Jacobs (Jr.), and Jonathan Sutherland (Gr.) are all returning for next season.

The defense lost seven starters to the draft this off-season. It will be a huge adjustment for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. It will be his first year in Happy Valley. They will face a challenge in week three when they make the trip to the Plains. Auburn’s offense should put up more of a fight this season than last season’s lackluster offensive performance.

LSU Tigers

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

LSU has always been known for its’ defense. Over the years, the program has sent players like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Derek Stingley Jr., Devin White, and Jamal Adams all to the league. The first-year defensive coordinator Matt House will need to improve the Tigers’ defense if the team wants any chances of competing in the SEC.

Last season, LSU allowed 377.5 yards per game and nearly 27 points allowed per game. New head coach Brian Kelly hauled in several key transfers — Joe Foucha, Gregory Brooks Jr., Mekhi Garner, Kolbe Fields, and Jarrick Bernard-Converse. The defense will have to set the tone early and often. I think it is possible that the Tigers have one of the best defenses in the conference, but I’ll place them at No. 5 for right now.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi State didn’t have the ideal season last year in terms of record. However, that didn’t indicate the gritty defense that stood out in Starkville last season. Third-year defensive coordinator Zach Arnett had plenty to work with the previous season. The Bulldogs held opposing teams to just an average of 113.2 rushing yards per game. That may seem like a good bit. However, that ranks as the third-lowest in relation to Auburn’s other teams on the schedule.

Head coach Mike Leach brought in key transfers Marcus Banks, Hunter Washington, and Jackie Matthews to boost the secondary. The two leading-tacklers Jett Johnson (R-Sr.) and Nathaniel Watson (R-Sr.) will return to Starkville for their final season. They will give Auburn trouble in the rushing game which may force the offense to be reliant through the air. That is something that Auburn fans are undoubtedly skeptical about.

Texas A&M Aggies

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It is safe to say that Texas A&M hasn’t been known for its defense over the years. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher has been able to show improvements year in and year out on the defensive side of the ball. He also brought in a true mastermind in former Ole Miss defensive coordinator DJ Durkin.

The Aggies will return numerous key pieces that include Demani Richardson (Sr.), Antonio Johnson (Jr.), and Edgerrin Cooper (So.). It will likely be one of the better defenses in the SEC and could possibly be among the best in the country. Auburn will have its hands full when Fisher brings his squad to the Plains.

Georgia Bulldogs

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Georgia had arguably one of the best defenses in college football history this past season. It is unlikely that this season’s defense will be as good as last year’s defense. However, that side of the ball will be good once again. co-defensive coordinators Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann will have the Dawgs’ defense ready to ball out again in 2022.

The team saw eight of its top defensive players from last season get drafted. That means it is the next man up for Kirby Smart’s squad. Players like Nolan Smith (Sr.), Kelee Ringo (R-So.), and Jalen Carter (Jr.) will be counted on to make more plays. There will be no letdown on that side of the ball for the Bulldogs. It will take everything that Auburn has got to get out of Athens with a victory.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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Alabama had a good defense in 2021, but their defense in 2022 will be even better. The only starters that the Crimson Tide lost to the NFL draft were Jalyn Armour-Davis, Christian Harris, and Phidarian Mathis. That means that defensive coordinator Pete Golding will get eight of his starters back on defense this upcoming season. Coach Saban brought in LSU transfer Eli Ricks (Jr.) this off-season.

The defense has one of the greatest pass rushers in college football history in Will Anderson (Jr.). The secondary is led by veterans Jordan Battle (Sr.), DeMarcco Hellams (Sr.), and Khyree Jackson (Sr.). The defensive line and linebackers are led by veterans as well. Auburn will have to travel to Tuscaloosa this season. Auburn’s offensive coordinator [autotag]Eric Kiesau[/autotag] will hope to have things figured out by the time he enters Bryant-Denny Stadium in the last week of November. The Tigers will have their hands full this season.

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