If you believe the SEC media, the road to an SEC championship runs through Auburn this year.
“Yeah, I think the way the SEC media voted with Auburn and Alabama shows, I think, a fair glimpse of what people are thinking,” AP college football writer Ralph Russo said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think Auburn was picked to win the SEC, but Alabama was picked to win the West. Essentially what that means is that people really don’t know between the two which one’s better in the West. So the voting ended up kind of funky.”
Alabama is coming off a 12-2 season that ended with a disappointing 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn, meanwhile, started 7-1 – a run that included four top-20 wins – before losing four of its final five games, including a 55-44 loss at Alabama and a 34-31 overtime loss against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
So, which program will bounce back better this year?
“I lean towards Auburn,” Russo said, “and my lean goes like this: Last year, Alabama had the little more accommodating schedule, and Auburn just had a monster schedule and it wore Auburn down and they ended up having a little bit of a disappointing year. If you look at the schedules right now, Alabama’s got pretty much the toughest schedule in the country this year. The team that has the toughest schedule in the country very rarely gets through it.”
Alabama opens against Wisconsin, hosts LSU and plays at Georgia and Auburn, among others.
It doesn’t help that the the Tide have uncertainty at quarterback. Former Florida State transfer Jake Coker could start under center, or it could be redshirt freshman David Cornwell. It’s still up in the air.
“Alabama has questions at quarterback,” Russo said. “Talented guys there, but who knows which one’s going to emerge? Meanwhile, Auburn’s definitely got their quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, who has a chance to be a big star. I think a lot of people think he could turn out to be the best quarterback in the SEC, even though he’s a backup last year.”
Johnson was the backup for Nick Marshall last season. Marshall accounted for more than 3,000 total yards and 31 touchdowns (20 pass, 11 rush), while Johnson completed 28 of 37 passes (75.7 percent) for 436 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in limited action.
Johnson will be expected to be the guy this year, and Gus Malzahn believes he can be.
“If you look at schedule and quarterback, it leans toward Auburn,” Russo said. “So that’s where I’m leaning.”