Auburn navigated one of college football’s most grueling schedules during the 2017 season, taking on eventual playoff teams Clemson, Alabama and Georgia. Despite the tough sledding, the Tigers managed to go 10-4, including 7-1 in the SEC as they wrestled the West Division title away from the Crimson Tide. If Auburn is to have similar success in 2018 with another run to Atlanta with a berth in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers will have to likely get by the Bulldogs and their bitter in-state rivals once again, while also taking on Pac-12 power Washington in their opener.
Even with injuries in the backfield and a first-year starting quarterback, Auburn was one of the most productive offenses in the FBS. The Tigers averaged 452 yards and 34 points per game. The offense received plenty of support from a defense that fared even better, holding opponents to 319 yards (14th nationally) and 18.5 points (tied for 11th) per game.
Another run through the always-challenging SEC West will not be easy, especially with an offensive line dismantled by graduation, but the return of quarterback Jarrett Stidham (above, right) and a defense that has the potential to be even better in year three under coordinator Kevin Steele makes Auburn a threat to not just win the SEC but also earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Outside of the neutral-site opener against Washington, the Tigers have a very favorable schedule until they reach November when they will be tested on the road in Athens and Tuscaloosa.
Auburn Tigers 2018 Football Schedule
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 – Sept. 1 vs. Washington (Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta)
The Huskies have been building momentum over head coach Chris Petersen’s first four seasons in Seattle. Washington ended the 2017 season 10-3 (7-2 in the Pac-12) with tight road losses to Arizona State, Stanford and Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. The season opener could have playoff implications for both teams and serve as online chatter for Pac-12 and SEC fans debating over which conference has the best football talent.
This will be the first meeting on the gridiron between the two programs.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. Alabama State (Auburn, Ala.)
The Hornets are a fine FCS program, but no match for Auburn. Alabama State ended the 2017 season 5-6 getting bounced 34-7 by their only FBS opponent, Troy. This should serve as a good breather to fix mistakes after Washington and prepare for the always dangerous Bayou Bengals.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. LSU (Auburn, Ala.)
This is a revenge game for Auburn. LSU snuck away with a 27-23 win in Baton Rouge last season disrupting what could have been a spotless regular-season SEC record for Auburn. LSU opens with a tough draw against Miami then a breather of its own against FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana before meeting up with Auburn. LSU takes on Louisiana Tech after meeting Auburn; so the visiting Tigers won’t get caught looking ahead.
The home team has won each of the past five meetings, so Auburn fans are certainly hoping that trend will continue.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 vs. Arkansas (Auburn, Ala.)
A unique matchup of two former high school football coaches – Gus Malzahn (Shiloh Christian in Arkansas) and Chad Morris (Lake Travis in Texas) – who became friends and helped pioneer the current spread/up-tempo offense that's prevalent in the collegiate ranks. This will be the first true test for Arkansas and Morris’ first conference matchup as the Razorbacks’ head coach.
Auburn has won four of the last five meetings between the two teams, the last two by a combined score of 108-23.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. Southern Miss (Auburn, Ala.)
The Golden Eagles took two tough shots against SEC teams last season, falling to Kentucky (24-17) and Tennessee (24-10). Head coach Jay Hopson returns for his third season in Hattiesburg looking to build off an 8-5 campaign. This is Southern Miss’ only game against a Power 5 program in 2018. Expect USM to show up ready to play.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)
Auburn catches Mississippi State at a good time after back-to-back games against Kentucky and Florida with LSU and Texas A&M looming for the Bulldogs. Under former head coach Dan Mullen, MSU always seemed to play Auburn, tough splitting the past six meetings. Few know what to expect from new head coach Joe Moorhead. Moorhead was brilliant as Penn State’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons, but faces a different beast in the SEC.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 vs. Tennessee (Auburn, Ala.)
This represents a third SEC game against a new head coach for Gus Malzahn and company. Tennessee hired defensive-minded Jeremy Pruitt away from Alabama as the replacement for Butch Jones in December. Pruitt has a lengthy resume, winning national titles as an assistant coach with Alabama and Florida State, but now must mold an entire team into his own vision. Defense has been an issue for the Volunteers in recent seasons, finishing 2017 ranked 81st in the nation in yards allowed per game (412.9).
This game comes in the midst of a brutal stretch for Tennessee. The Volunteers open with West Virginia, get a two-game breather, and then play Florida, Georgia and Auburn. After visiting the Tigers, they go home to face Alabama followed by a road game against South Carolina.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
The days of the “Land Shark” defense may be in the rearview mirror for the Rebels, especially after allowing 460 yards per game last season, but this offense could be one of the best in the SEC. If Ole Miss stays healthy, they have a quarterback in Jordan Ta’amu who can carve up any defense, supported by one of the best receiving corps and offensive lines in the nation.
Auburn whipped Ole Miss 44-23 last season, but the Rebels do not have to face Alabama the week before this year, getting Arkansas in Little Rock instead.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 vs. Texas A&M (Auburn, Ala.)
Texas A&M turned over the reins of the program to former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher in the offseason. A change in offensive philosophy from a spread/up-tempo attack to a balanced pro-style set should help the Aggies’ running game and a defense repeatedly gassed late in games and come November. But, can Fisher hide enough of the flaws through his first year in College Station?
This is a tough draw for A&M, a sixth consecutive conference game and third on the road – South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Week 11 – Nov. 11 at Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Just like LSU, this is another revenge game for Auburn. After the Tigers wore out the Bulldogs 40-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Georgia pulled it all together for the SEC Championship Game, earning a 28-7 retribution victory to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs have a laughable schedule in 2018 with non-conference games against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, Massachusetts, and the annual regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. If anything is in Auburn’s favor, the Bulldogs return home after a three-game road trip against LSU, Florida and Kentucky.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 vs. Liberty (Auburn, Ala.)
And on the 11th game they rested... After developing into a solid FCS program, the Flames are making the transition to FBS. Turner Gill’s team went 6-5 last season, including a shocking 48-45 victory over a disjointed Baylor team to open the campaign. That high was replaced with a four-game losing streak at the midpoint during which Liberty lost to eventual FCS playoff teams Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State and Monmouth as well as St. Francis.
Week 13 – Nov. 24 at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Trivia question – when was the last time Auburn had at least a two-game winning streak against Alabama? The 2002-07 seasons. If Malzahn wants to take Auburn to that next level as a college football powerhouse, beating Alabama in back-to-back seasons would do it. After traveling to LSU on Nov. 3, the Crimson Tide spend the rest of the month at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Ahead of hosting Auburn, Bama gets a cupcake in The Citadel from the FCS ranks. If the rest of the season has gone to plan, this game could seal Auburn’s return trip to the SEC Championship Game.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.