Photo by Jason Caldwell

Caldwell Column: Arrests Could Have Big Impact On Auburn's Opener Vs. Clemson

Jason Caldwell writes about the potential impact for the 2016 Auburn football season opener after four Tigers were arrested.

When Auburn sophomores Byron Cowart, Carlton Davis, Ryan Davis and Jeremiah Dinson were arrested Saturday night for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, the chances of Gus Malzahn’s team beating Clemson in the season opener may have decreased.

No suspension has been handed down and it would be surprising to learn of one anytime soon even if Malzahn decides to sit the guys out, but based on past precedent all four could be out for the first half of the season opener in September at a minimum. Prior to the 2014 season Nick Marshall was cited for possession while Jonathan Mincy was arrested for misdemeanor possession. Both were suspended for the first half of that season’s opener against Arkansas.

If that punishment pattern is followed it would be a blow for Auburn because of the loss of Carlton Davis alone. Making a strong case for being the best defensive player on the roster heading into the 2016 season alongside Carl Lawson, the loss of Davis for 30 minutes against anyone would be big, but against Clemson it could be a real problem.

Returning to lead Clemson’s offense and one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season, Deshaun Watson has proven to be a challenge for even the best defenses. Completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns a season ago, Watson’s ability to stretch the field will make it tough for an Auburn defense even at full strength.

When you add in the weapons that Watson has to choose from things get even tougher for an Auburn secondary potentially without Carlton Davis. Artavis Scott (93-901-6 TD’s), Jordan Leggett (40-525-8), Deon Cain (34-582-5) and Hunter Renfrow (33-492-5) all return after putting up huge numbers a year ago. Throw in the return of Mike Williams and things get even tougher for Auburn.

Breaking a bone in his neck in last year’s opener, Williams took a redshirt year and returns in 2016 looking to build on his monster sophomore year. Catching 57 passes for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, Williams provides a big-time deep threat for Clemson’s offense to go along with a talented receiver at every level.

The loss of Cowart could be felt as welll after he made strides in the offseason and spring practice. Even if he’s not a starter Cowart would provide depth up front and that’s big with Clemson returning a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Watson and Wayne Gallman.

For the entire group this one even isn’t something that can derail a career, but it’s not a good start to the 2016 season for them and the worst part about it is they possibly put their team at a disadvantage in one of the biggest games of the year. We’ve seen players overcome worse in the past and that’s the goal for all four now as they’ll likely have plenty of extra work to do between now and preseason practice.

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