Dye-Gest: Early Challenges Await Tigers

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about the 2016 Auburn Tigers.

DeShaun Watson (above) is a standout performer for Clemson.

Because the Auburn football season-opening game is against Clemson, that should have been a tremendous motivating factor for the players to put in extra work leading into preseason practice that starts on Wednesday. I know the coaches and the players are excited about the opportunity because very seldom do you get to open the season vs. a team that finished second in the country the previous season.

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This is a really challenging opener for the Tigers. Auburn is going to have to be as good as it can be early in the season to have a chance to win against a team that features a proven star in DeShaun Watson, who is probably the best quarterback in college football this season.

In contrast, Auburn is still trying to figure out who its quarterback is. Getting that established is going to be a major priority in preseason drills. Looking at what we saw from the quarterbacks in spring training it won’t surprise me if the Tigers end up playing two because that may give the team its best chance to win.

Whoever is taking the snaps is going to need to be ready to perform at a high level in September facing a schedule that includes Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M and LSU during the first four weeks.

If Auburn can come out of that stretch of games undefeated I think the team would be ranked in the top three in the country despite the preseason predictions that it is not a serious contender for the SEC championship. That type of preseason ranking didn’t keep the 2013 team from making a run at a national title. If my memory is right I don’t think there were many folks predicting the 2010 Auburn team would go undefeated and be the national champion.

One of the things that makes college football great is that it seems like you never know for sure how a team is going to perform from year to year because there are so many variables to take into consideration.

A team can also change a good bit during the course of a season. I?remember in 1989 when we started the schedule I thought we had the makings of a good football team. However, we didn’t play that way early in the season, but the players kept working and by the end of the year we were a lot better when we beat Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State. We ended up with a team that was probably as good as anybody in the country, but we lost two games early in the season.

We had good leadership in that group and the early setbacks didn’t destroy that team. The players kept working and by the time we were ready to play the rivalry games at the end of the season we were in a position to win them.

I sure don’t know how the 2016 Auburn season is going to play out and if this team will be strong enough to have a lot of success both early and late in the season. I do believe that there are enough pieces in place to make this a fun year for Auburn fans. If the team doesn’t have a good, proven player at a position it has a good prospect at every position--even at quarterback.

I am really excited that Auburn is opening with such a challenging game. Clemson has a great quarterback, an outstanding running back and good players everywhere, but I think Auburn has good players everywhere, too. I can’t wait to see what happens.

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