SEC Media Days: Scouting UF’s league opponents — Auburn

Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson speaks Thursday to reporters during Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)


 Coach: Gus Malzahn, seventh season (62-30 overall, 53-27 at Auburn).

 Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (5th in the West). Defeated Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl.

 Last year’s game: Auburn and Florida last played in 2011, with the Tigers winning 17-6 at Auburn.

 Starters returning: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense).

 Strengths: The Tigers are feeling really good about their chances of contending in the West, because the SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league and AU could be dominant up front on both sides of the ball. The defensive line, featuring standout tackle Derrick Brown and end Marlon Davidson, could be the best in the nation, right on par with the star-studded fronts arch-rival Alabama always seems to field. On the offensive line, all five starters return. With the top four rushers returning, the Tigers should be potent on the ground.

 Possible problem areas: Now that Jarrett Stidham is gone, the Tigers have almost zero playing experience at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood is the leading candidate for the job. He’s a dual-threat QB who has the kind of skill set that seems to work best in Malzahn’s spread offense. True freshman Bo Nix is expected to push Gatewood for the starting role. It doesn’t help that the two leading receivers from last season — Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis — must be replaced. On defense, while the line is a huge strength, linebacker is a considerable question mark, with the top three players from a year ago gone.

 The schedule: The Tigers dive right into their season, opening with a big game against Oregon in Dallas. Auburn adds Florida from the East, which means their cross-division games will be against the Gators and Georgia, a tough draw. A week after coming to The Swamp, the Tigers go to Death Valley against LSU. They close the season with four consecutive home games, ending with the Iron Bowl against Alabama.

 Quotable:Our big question is our quarterback situation. Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix, two freshmen fighting for the position. Both of them are very athletic. They can create things when things break down. They have big-time arms. Both of them are really hungry for the job. We’ll figure out in fall camp. We’ll name a starter and figure which of those two guys gives us the best chance of winning.” — Gus Malzahn