Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; The Auburn Tigers mascot during the tiger walk before the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Sideline Q&A (2014 SEC Football Preview) - Fly War Eagle

During the 2014 preseason to the college football season, Ole Hotty Toddy is prepared to bring Ole Miss fans the ultimate coverage preview to the 2014 season. We will be reaching out to fellow FanSided writers of other SEC schools and writers from other networks and publishers of other SEC schools to give us their in depth look of their team with what we call Opponent Sideline Q&A.

Mar 13, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; An Auburn Tigers cheerleader performs in a game against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first round of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena. The Aggies beat the Tigers 71-62. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s Opponent Sideline Q&A, Nicholas Ian Allen of FanSided’s Auburn Tigers’ site – FlyWarEagle.com, was nice enough to share with us his take on Auburn coming into the 2014 college football season. You can follow Nicholas Ian Allen on Twitter @FlyWarEagle. Below is our sit-down interview with Allen about the Tigers in 2014.

Ole Hotty Toddy: What a magical (Cinderella story) turn around season Auburn had last year. What is the current morale with Auburn fans related to Gus Malzahan?

Fly War Eagle: Last season was amazing. Nationally, it seems that people really only remember the Iron Bowl now, but there were so many great games last season.

The Tigers beat Washington State in the fourth quarter, Mississippi State with ten seconds left in the game, Texas A&M with 1:19 remaining on the clock, and of course the unbelievable finish against Georgia – which was the greatest game in college football history for exactly two weeks.

Winning close games like that – and making the Tigers nationally relevant after the nightmare that was 2012 – has already made Gus Malzahn a bit of a folk hero among Auburn fans. Expectations are very high and there is talk of making it back to the national championship game. Now, we’ll just have to see if Malzahn and the rest of the coaching staff can keep it up.

OHT: Gus Malzahn stated at SEC Media Days that Nick Marshall was removed to visit the annual media conference, due to a drug use situation. What has come of that? Will Marshall face severer consequences in the upcoming season?

FWE: Malzahn and Auburn have released nothing related to any additional punishment for Marshall. The fine for the citation has been paid, so the matter is closed from a legal standpoint. However, I would not be surprised to see Marshall suspended for a portion of the season opener. If I were to speculate, I would expect him to miss the first half against Arkansas, though a full game suspension seems unlikely.

OHT: Who replaces Tre Mason at running back? Will he be as impactful for the Auburn offense?

FWE: Recently at Fly War Eagle, we listed the Auburn running back depth chart. Cameron Artis-Payne is the best bet to start the season atop the depth chart, with Corey Grant and true freshman Roc Thomas in the mix.

At the risk of sounding cocky, I’d say that any of the three could run for more than 1,000 yards in Gus Malzahn’s offense as the primary ball carrier. In eight seasons as a collegiate assistant or head coach, Malzahn has produced eleven 1,000-yard rushers. Simply based on that history, I’d say yes that Artis-Payne (or Grant or Thomas) will have a similar impact.

OHT: Auburn did lose some talent to the NFL that played a role of getting them to the national title game last year. Tell us about some newcomers that could send Auburn back to that road.

FWE: Obviously, the loss of Mason will be a factor. The Tigers have options, but Mason was the fourth running back selected in the NFL draft, so he was certainly talented.

The biggest loss (literally) is left tackle Greg Robinson, who left following his sophomore season. It makes sense, of course, since he was the second overall pick, but it stings from a fan’s perspective. Replacing fullback Jay Prosch flies a bit under the radar, but he was a huge piece of the offensive puzzle for Auburn last year, and Chris Davis was a solid corner, and obviously did some great things on special teams.

The best bet to replace Robinson is Shon Coleman, who is a great story. He is a former five-star recruit that survived a leukemia diagnosis and is back on the field. He competed with Patrick Miller this spring, and both players are solid.

Brandon Fulse is going to handle most of Prosch’s duties as a lead blocker, and Trovon Reed and Joshua Holsey are competing to replace Davis. Reed is a player to watch. He moved from wide receiver this off-season and is very naturally gifted. He could have a great year.

OHT: Who are the most impactful players on the Auburn offense and defense that we need to watch out for in the upcoming season?

FWE: Nick Marshall is the key on offense. He solidified the quarterback position last season and got better as the season progressed. His athletic ability plays very well in the offense and puts even more pressure on defensive coordinators. Malzahn has said that Marshall has become a much better passer this off-season as well, which is good news since the Tigers plan to be more balanced on offense and throw more this year.

Also, wide receiver Sammie Coates is an athletic freak. He’s one of the fastest players on the roster and one of the strongest pound-for-pound. Thanks to the Tigers’ play-action passing game, Coates led the nation in yards per catch last season. He could have even better numbers this year, especially since the Tigers added D’haquille Williams, the country’s top junior college recruit. Williams’ presence will make it difficult for opponents to double team Coates.

OHT: Ole Miss and Auburn had a very close game last season, what are your early predictions of the game this year?

FWE: Last year’s game was a turning point for Auburn. Malzahn has said that the coaching staff tweaked the offense a bit in the bye week leading up to the matchup and re-emphasized the running attack. In the two games prior, Marshall attempted 34 and 33 passes against Mississippi State and LSU, respectively.

He only attempted 20 or more passes in a game three times over the season’s last ten games, and never more than 26. Also, against the Rebels, Marshall ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns – his second best rushing performance of the season.

Looking ahead to this year’s matchup, there is a lot for Auburn fans to be worried about. Ole Miss has racked up talent recently, and the schedule really sets up nicely for them. Though far from expected, I would not be surprised to see the Rebels upset Alabama on October 4, and they could possibly even be undefeated heading into the game with Auburn. Of course, that means they would win in Baton Rouge – which despite the Tigers rebuilding this season, is never easy.

The Rebels are solid on defense, and the Ole Miss defensive unit could be the best in the league from top to bottom. Bo Wallace is the SEC’s most experienced quarterback, and is likely to lead the league in passing this season. That said, the Rebels will not have faced as offense as strong and diverse as Auburn’s. It’s too early for me to confidently make a prediction, though I could see the game going either way – especially with it being in Oxford.

OHT: How is Austin Golson? Is he treating you really good over there?

FWE: Ha, I can’t really give any insight as to how Austin Golson is doing, but I know his transfer really stings the folks at Ole Miss and he will certainly be missed on the field. As you know, the offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Rebels, so losing a former four-star recruit that played in 12 games last season hurts.

Of course, as college football fans we sometimes forget that these are young men that are forced to deal with difficult situations. Golson decided he needed to be closer to home and family, and his transfer to Auburn made sense under those circumstances. He’ll redshirt this year, and hopefully will be ready to contribute in 2015.

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