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Auburn Football Preview: Why The Tigers Can Win The National Title

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a 15-part series in which we preview college football’s top teams. We’ll be counting down from 15 to one, with the final team, released on Sept. 3 – the day college football starts – serving as our national title pick.

7. Auburn Tigers

Deemed the preseason favorite to win the SEC, this upcoming season is expected to be a good one for Auburn. We agree. The Tigers, led by quarterback Jeremy Johnson, should have one of the country's top offenses in 2015. Defense has been an issue - Auburn allowed nearly 27 points a game in 2014 - but the addition of Will Muschamp to Gus Malzahn's coaching staff should pay dividends. 

Can the Tigers get through a tough regular season schedule, win the SEC for the first time since 2013 and make the College Football Playoff? That's the goal in Auburn, Ala. And we think they can achieve it. 

Where They're At In The Rankings

The Schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Louisville (in Atlanta)
Sept. 12 vs. Jacksonville State
Sept. 19 at No. 13 LSU 
Sept. 26 vs. Mississippi State
Oct. 3 vs. San Jose State
Oct. 15 at Kentucky
Oct. 24 at No. 20 Arkansas
Oct. 31 vs. No. 15 Ole Miss
Nov. 7 at Texas A&M
Nov. 14 vs. No. 9 Georgia
Nov. 21 vs. Idaho
Nov. 28 vs. No. 3 Alabama

Key Games

Sept. 5 vs. Louisville

Simply put: Auburn can't lose this game. Being in the SEC West, the Tigers have an incredibly tough conference schedule - five games against ranked opponents - and, most likely, they'll have to go no worse than 12-1 to make the College Football Playoff (or maybe 11-1 with no conference championship). So you can't lose to unranked Louisville to start the season. But that doesn't mean a victory will be easy. It's a neutral site game in Atlanta. The Cardinals have a lot of talent and should be really fired up. If Auburn's defense can prevent the big plays, Malzahn's squad should be able to start the season 1-0.

Sept. 19 at No. 13 LSU

The first SEC game of the season is always tough - especially when it's on the road. It'll only be the the third week of the year but this'll be a huge contest for Auburn, which likely can't afford to drop an early divisional contest if it wants to win the SEC West. The schedule is too tough the rest of the way. So the Tigers will have to go into Baton Rouge, La., and take a victory from the division's other Tigers. Thankfully for Auburn, the contest is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. E.T., avoiding the dreaded Death Valley night game. As long as the Tigers' offense can hold onto the ball, they should be able to outscore offensively-challenged LSU, which has yet to decide on a starting QB. 

Nov. 28 vs. Alabama

Duh. This is the game, the one that matters more than any other and, probably, the contest that will decide which team represents the SEC West in the conference's championship game. The 2014 edition of the Iron Bowl was a good one, but the Tigers' defense just didn't have enough to get it done, losing to the Crimson Tide, 55-44. This year, the game's at Auburn. And the Tigers' defense, led by Muschamp, should be more prepared to stop Nick Saban's attack. It should be another great chapter in college football's greatest rivalry. 

Key Players

Jeremy Johnson, junior quarterback

Nick Marshall had a very good year at QB for Auburn in 2014, but his successor, Johnson, could be even better. He's not as smooth as Marshall, but he's bigger and a more powerful threat in the running game. His arm is stronger and the Tigers' vertical attack should be more dangerous. Johnson performed well in limited time last year, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns in his lone start of the season (Week 1 vs. Arkansas). He'll have all the tools he could want surrounding him - take care of the ball and Auburn's offense should be one of America's best. 

D'haquille Williams, senior wide receiver

It's been a rough offseason for Williams, who missed time due to discipline issues. He's back now, though. Malzahn reinstated him to the team last week. 

At 6-foot-2, 224 pounds, Williams might be college football's most-talented wideout. He's the clear top threat in a receiving corps that returns four of its top six players from 2014. Williams is the big-play guy, averaging 16.2 yards a catch last fall. He'll be targeted a ton by Johnson, who can use Williams as a bailout option whenever anything breaks down.

Just throw the ball up and Williams can go get it. Like this. 

Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator

OK, this is kind of cheating, since Muschamp isn't a player. Obviously. But he's more important to Auburn's 2015 team than any single defensive student-athlete. The Tigers' defense lost its team some games in 2014, as it allowed 41 points to Texas A&M and 55 points to Alabama. Auburn's defense just needs to be marginally better in 2015 so that doesn't happen.

With Muschamp, it should be. He's got some talent to worth with - Malzahn's been recruiting pretty well on the defensive side of the ball. And he's been getting pretty good reviews by his fellow coaches and players since getting hired. He brings a defensive intelligence Auburn hasn't had, along with a fiery persona a needing-to-improve defense should want. 

It'll be interesting to see how Muschamp's defense is affected by playing with an extremely up-tempo offense, but we're betting on the Tigers' defense being one of the conference's most-improved units thanks to the addition of the former Florida coach. 

Why They Can Win The National Title

They're talented. Really, really talented. The offense should be able to march up and down the field with ease. The running game should be one of the - if not, the - best rushing attacks in the country. Johnson + Auburn's running backs = nightmares for opposing defenses. And with the addition of Muschamp and the expected growth of some defensive players, Auburn's scary offense shouldn't have to worry too much about losing games if they're putting up 40-plus points. And 40-plus points a game is possible. 

The schedule's tough, but it lays out OK. An opening win against Louisville should happen. LSU is beatable on the road. And the Tigers get Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama at home. 

Go 11-1, win the tiebreakers in the SEC West, beat the often under-matched SEC East champion and make the College Football Playoff. Get there, and a prominent rushing attack with a fast defense can win you two games. 

Previously: No. 8 Georgia; Up next: No. 6 Oregon