College football’s season is still up in the air and as state governments begin lifting restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, college athletics officials are starting to plan for how a season can go on in a safe and effective manner. Safe to say, there will be no normal.
Teams were not afforded the luxury of spring practices and have fallen behind in that regard, but Auburn University President Jay Gogue did say in a statement this week that campus operations will resume in the fall. And when these players do return to campus, Gus Malzahn and his staff will have a number of position battles to watch in a short amount of time.
Here’s an early look at what the Tigers’ offense could look like in 2020.
QUARTERBACK- Bo Nix, So.
-Cord Sandberg, So.
-Chayil Garnett, Fr.
There’s no need for a quarterback competition this time around, if and when preseason practice for college football ensues, with the season’s start date still unknown. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year had his ups and downs in 2019, but showed resilience and maturity beyond his years throwing for over 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns, setting multiple Auburn freshman records in the process. Malzahn should be in a comfortable position, with one of the better quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference at his disposal.
RUNNING BACK- (a) D. J. Williams, So. (b) Tank Bigsby, Fr.
-Shaun Shivers, Jr.
-Mark-Antony Richards, RFr.
-Harold Joiner, So.
-Malik Miller, Sr.
Cadillac Williams’ running back room is loaded with talent and depth, so this will be an intriguing battle to keep an eye on as the season. With Boobee Whitlow choosing to enter the transfer portal during the offseason, I expect Malzahn to give the nod to D.J. Williams who has more experience, having started two games last season. However, Bigsby is a Top-5 back in the country and is one of the most talented prospects Auburn has had at the position in recent years. The Georgia product can do it all at 210 pounds and could develop into the all-purpose feature back that the Tigers were hoping for if given the chance.
- Split end- Seth Williams, Jr.
-Kobe Hudson, Fr.
-J.J. Evans, Fr.
- Flanker- Anthony Schwartz, Jr.
-Zach Farrar, Sr.
-Elijah Canion, Fr.
- Slot- Eli Stove, Sr.
-Ja’Varrius Johnson, Fr.
- Big slot- Shedrick Jackson, Jr.
-Ze’Vian Capers, Fr.
Newly appointed offensive coordinator Chad Morris will have an experienced arsenal to work with in the passing game. Headlined by junior Seth Williams, who broke out last season as a go-to target and developed a connection with Nix, is joined by upperclassmen Schwartz and Stove, both of whom have big-play potential with their speed and versatility. It will be interesting to see how Morris utilizes his returning starters, as well as mix in talented youngsters like Hudson and Johnson among others in the system.
TIGHT END/H-BACK- John Samuel Shenker, Jr.
-Luke Deal, RFr.
-Tyler Fromm, RFr.
-Brandon Frazier, Fr.
-J.J. Pegues, Fr.
Morris, who saw success in his time at Arkansas implementing tight ends into the offense, should be excited to work with this group. Shenker has five starts under his belt and will be primed for a full season as the starter, but there is athleticism at this position top to bottom. Both freshmen, Frazier and Pegues, were both recruited by Morris as playmakers that could have an early role to play in the offense.
- Left tackle- Austin Troxell, Jr.
-Alec Jackson, Jr.
-Justin Osborne, RFr.
-Prince Michael Sammons, Sr.
- Left guard- Keiondre Jones, RFr.
-Tashawn Manning, Jr.
-Kameron Stutts, So.
-Tate Johnson, Fr.
- Center- Nick Brahms, Jr.
-Jalil Irvin, So.
-Avery Jernigan, Fr.
- Right guard- Brodarious Hamm, Jr.
-Brandon Council, Jr.
-Kamaar Bell, RFr.
- Right tackle- Kilian Zierer, Jr.
-Brenden Coffey, Jr.
-Jeremiah Wright, Fr.
New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. will have his hands full in 2020, especially under these unique circumstances. The line lost six seniors from last year’s group and will have 17 players competing for five spots this season, so almost all spots are wide open. The lone certainty is Brahms at center and Hamm, who showed great strides last season, should end up starting somewhere, although it could be at guard or tackle. Troxell just needs to stay healthy and if he can, I would be surprised to not see him challenging for that left tackle spot. The biggest questions I have with this projection are with Jones and Zierer. The Tigers reached into the junior college pool to get Zierer and if he’s fully healthy, I think he has the size and athleticism to potentially earn a starting position.