Montravius Adams (above) is one of the Auburn defense's most experienced players.
Last year Auburn took the field with the fewest number of football players with 20 games of experience of any team in the Southeastern Conference. The lack of veteran players might explain why the Tigers were 3-4 in games decided by eight points or less.
In comparison, Auburn’s roster for the 2013 SEC champion team had nearly twice as many players with 20 games of experience than the 2015 roster, which helped the 2013 Tigers compile a 6-1 record in games decided by eight points or less.
During the past 12 seasons Auburn featured six teams with at least 20 players with 20 games of experience. Those six also had at least 10 players with 30 games of experience. With this level of experience Auburn compiled a 67-12 record, including a 22-4 mark in games decided by seven points or less. The remaining six teams that lacked experience finished with a combined record of 40-36, including 14-14 in games decided by seven points or less.
In a perfect world the 2016 Auburn roster should be dependent upon the 2012 and 2013 signing classes to provide the level of experience needed to compete in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn signed 24 players in 2013, but one-fourth of the class was junior college transfers who are no longer with the team. Only ten of the 24 players signed in 2013 are currently on the roster, and nine could be major contributors in 2016. Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Rudy Ford should be starters on defense this season.
Jason Smith failed to qualify in 2013 and was later resigned out of junior college. Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens, Deon Mix and Jeremy Johnson are the only four offensive players left from the 2013 freshman class. Daniel Carlson and Cameron Toney round out the remaining players from Gus Malzahn’s first recruiting class. The 2013 class players expected to return in 2016 have combined for 237 games of experience and 104 starts, which should provide much-needed experience and leadership for 2016.
Scout.com ranked the 2013 recruiting class at No. 13 nationally. Of the 24 players signed that season nine were rated as 4-stars or better. All nine highly-rated players became starters or major contributors. Malzahn’s first recruiting class included two-year starter Nick Marshall at quarterback and two 1,000-yard rushers in Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber. Of the six juco players signed five appeared in at least 26 games at Auburn.
The 2012 recruiting class included 21 players and was ranked No. 8 in the country. Including Jovon Robinson, who resigned after going to junior college, there are only five players remaining from Coach Gene Chizik’s last Auburn recruiting class. Those players should be significant contributors in 2016. Alex Kozan, Robert Leff and Jovon Robinson will likely be starters and T.J. Davis and Josh Holsey will give the secondary much-needed depth and experience.
Alex Kozan has two years of starting experience at offensive guard.
Thirteen of the 21 players signed in 2012 appeared in at least 24 games as an Auburn Tiger with nine becoming starters. JaViere Mitchell, Avery Young, Jordan Diamond and Gimel President elected not to return to the team in 2016. In total, the 2016 roster will have 13 players remaining on the roster who signed three or four years ago. The 2010 Auburn roster had 23 and the 2013 Auburn team had 20 such players. Technically, Jason Smith and Jovon Robinson would bring the total up to 15, but neither player has been at Auburn for at least three seasons.
History has shown that Auburn’s most productive seasons have occurred with veteran rosters, something missing in 2015. Last year’s roster had only 14 scholarship players who had been with the program three to four years prior to the start of the season, and only seven were actual starters last season.
This season Auburn will have 22 players with at least 20 games of experience, much higher than the 15 Auburn possessed during 2015. Fifteen of the 22 most experienced players are expected to be starters with an additional four expected to see significant playing time in 2016.
This level of experience could make the difference in the outcome of four to five games this season. As Auburn enters its fourth season under Malzahn, only four players remain from Chizik’s last recruiting class. Auburn’s scholarship personnel is more talented than it was four years ago during Chizik’s last season as head coach. The 2012 scholarship roster consisted of 49.4 percent 4-star and 5-star recruits. The 2016 Auburn roster is at 60.5 percent. The right combination of talent and experience could translate to two to three more wins in 2016.