BY WIL CREWS
Auburn named junior quarterback T.J. Finley its starting quarterback last weekend ahead of its opening-game home matchup against Mercer, Sept. 3.
The decision to go with Finley over the likes of Texas A&M transfer Zac Calzada and Oregon transfer Robby Ashford was met with mixed reviews. However, the decision signaled the toppling of one of the final roster-decision dominoes that will reflect the outlook for the Tigers in 2022.
Buckle up, folks, college football season is here. It’s time to make game-by-game predictions for how the 2022 football season will play out for the Auburn Tigers and second-year head coach Bryan Harsin.
WEEK 1: SEPT. 3 VS. MERCER
Mercer enters Jordan-Hare Stadium having already won its first scheduled matchup of the season against Morehead State, 63-13. The Bears’ offense will see its early-season momentum come to a screeching halt when it faces the front seven of the Tigers. Auburn may start out slowly due to all the changes in personnel that have unfolded over the spring and summer, but the Tigers are the far superior team on paper. The Tigers overcame five turnovers in their last matchup against Mercer in 2017 to win a way-too-close ball game, 24-10. There will likely be no nail-biting this time.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Mercer 10.
WEEK 2: SEPT. 10 VS. SAN JOSE STATE
A second-to-last finisher in its division last year, San Diego State is Auburn’s second opponent — and their second easiest matchup of the season. The only reason they are rated as the “easiest” is because the Tigers could be caught looking forward to the meeting with Penn State the next Saturday. But, the ship that Harsin is running doesn’t strike anyone as one that “looks ahead.” The Tigers should cruise to a 2-0 record here, barring any turmoil with the quarterback play.
Prediction: Auburn 45, San Jose State 9
WEEK 3: SEPT. 17 VS. PENN STATE
In my eyes, the quarterback battle on the Plains will continue at least through halftime of this game. Yes, Finley is the named-starter, but if he struggles in the first two matchups and in the first half against the Nittany Lions, Harsin and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau may opt for a change. Regardless, Auburn’s defense should be solid enough to keep the game close, but the Tigers may stumble in their first real test of the season.
Prediction: Penn State 21, Auburn 17
WEEK 4: SEPT. 24 VS. MISSOURI
Auburn’s offense will bounce back with more clarity at the quarterback position coming from its first three games. A contest that could be looked back on as a battle between two teams middling in their conference’s division will be swung in favor of the home-team Tigers.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Missouri 20
WEEK 5: OCT. 1 VS. LSU
Auburn finally broke the Death Valley curse last season, winning in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1999 thanks to some heroics from quarterback Bo Nix. By this time in the season, the Bayou Tigers and coach Bryan Kelley will have figured out how they need to play to compete in the loaded SEC West. But, LSU is a program in flux and amidst great turnover, leaving the more-settled Auburn with an opportunity to best its mascot-counterpart for the second season in a row.
Prediction: Auburn 27, LSU 24
WEEK 6: OCT. 8 @ GEORGIA (THE DEEP SOUTH’S OLDEST RIVALRY)
The first road test of Auburn’s season may be its greatest, as the Tigers travel to face the defending college football champions, the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers have the opportunity to build confidence with five straight home games to begin the season before this matchup. If Auburn enters the game undefeated, a revamped Georgia team may have a tough game on its hands. However, the honeymoon section of the season stops here and the biggest struggle for Georgia may just be covering the spread. Auburn has lost its past seven meetings at Sanford Stadium, and the young Tiger roster of 2022 is a doubt to reverse that trend.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Auburn 17
WEEK 7: OCT. 15 @ OLE MISS
Ole Miss is probably the leading SEC candidate to regress from 2021 to 2022. Replacing departures at starting quarterback and many other positions, Lane Kiffin has a tall task on his hands if he hopes to repeat the success of last season’s second-place finish in the SEC West. Kiffin’s new-school, free-flowing offense and youthful exuberance against Harsin’s all-business, pro-style of play will provide a dichotomous matchup of coaching styles which will unfold in favor of the Tigers.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Ole Miss 27
WEEK 8: BYE
WEEK 9: OCT. 29 VS. ARKANSAS
The Razorbacks are plenty of peoples’ sleeper pick to makes waves in the SEC in 2022. Head coach Sam Pittman enters his third season in charge with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and returning quarterback KJ Jefferson poised to lead an offense which finished No. 1 in the SEC in rushing last year. Auburn’s advantage on the defensive line could be the difference, but the Arkansas defense is no slouch either, with Second-Team All-SEC linebacker Bumper Pool anchoring the unit.
Prediction: Arkansas 29, Auburn 24
WEEK 10: NOV. 5 @ MISSISSIPPI STATE
It will take more than a few clever quips from Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach for the Bulldogs to repeat the winning success they had against the Tigers in 2021. Harsin and company will look to avenge last year’s shambolic loss (Mississippi State outscored Auburn 33-6 in the second half to win the contest, 43-34.) before looking ahead to its important matchup against Texas A&M the next week. Returning quarterback for the Bulldogs, Will Rogers, and a loaded defense that was ranked No. 30 nationally at the end of the year, will pose a unique challenge for Auburn’s defense. But, the Tigers will prove the SEC’s tried-and-true notion that rushing wins you games, and take the air out of the Bulldog’s air-raid offense.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Miss. State 30
WEEK 11: NOV. 12 VS. TEXAS A&M
A true defensive battle between two teams that entered the season with looming questions marks at the quarterback position, Auburn will solidify a successful season by snapping a four-game losing streak against the Aggies.
Prediction: Auburn 24, Texas A&M 17
WEEK 12: NOV. 19 VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The Hilltoppers will likely take a step back in 2022 after losing last year’s starting QB Bailey Zappe — who led the NCAA in total pass yards — to the NFL. However, the system in place still poses questions for opposing defenses in 2022. Western Kentucky may find a way to keep things close for half of this contest, but the sheer talent of the Tigers should prevail.
Prediction: Auburn 42, Western Kentucky 21
WEEK 13: NOV. 26 @ ALABAMA (THE IRON BOWL)
The Tide, on paper, are the best team in the country in 2022. Last year’s Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young and potentially the best defensive player in the country, defensive end Will Anderson, will prove too much for the Tigers to handle in the season-finale road test.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 14
Overall Record: 8-4 (6-2, SEC)