It’s a new season on the plains and the start of a new era as well. Coach Bryan Harsin, brought over from Boise State during the offseason to lead the Tigers, will make his debut in the orange and blue Saturday, September 4th when Akron comes to town. This is only the second ever meeting on the gridiron between these two squads. Auburn won the previous meeting 42-0 on October 15th, 1988.
Akron is led by third year head coach Tom Arth and is coming off a 1-5 season a year ago. Like most of the college football world, it was a conference only schedule for the Zips last year meaning they only played fellow Mid-American Conference teams. There is a link between these two squads—Brandon Council transferred from Akron to Auburn two years ago and is listed as a co-starter at left guard on Auburn’s depth chart.
If you have been keeping up with Auburn this offseason, you are most likely aware of the key players in orange and blue; however, if you do need a refresher here is a breakdown of key players for Auburn. Junior quarterback Bo Nix will start under center for the third year in a row. Coach Harsin has stated multiple times this fall that LSU transfer T.J. Finley has looked good in practice and has kept the pressure on Nix at the quarterback position.
Tank Bigsby returns at running back as one of the SEC’s top offensive backfield talents, assuming he can avoid the injury bug that hampered him last season.
Auburn has eight upperclassmen offensive linemen who started at least one game last year. The Tigers will look to build a cohesive unit led by center Nick Brahms this year after struggling with continuity last year due to COVID problems.
At wide receiver, Georgia transfer Demetris Robertson will look to team with camp standout Ja’Varrius Johnson to anchor a young wide receiver corp. On defense, the Tigers brought in several talented transfers (Eku Leota, Marcus Harris, and Tony Fair) to team with Derick Hall, Colby Wooden, and Zykevious Walker in an attempt to rejuvenate Auburn’s pass rush. The back seven of Auburn’s defense is loaded with talent. The linebackers are led by captains Owen Pappoe and Chandler Wooten, as well as tackling machine Zakoby McClain. Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday return for their senior season to anchor the secondary. Other names to watch in the defensive backfield include Nehemiah Pritchett, Jaylin Simpson, Ladarius Tennison, Dreshun Miller, Donovan Kaufman, and Bydarrius Knighten.
Akron is led by quarterback Kato Nelson who is the active career leader for the Zips in rushing attempts, passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Linebacker Bubba Arslanian earned a multitude of preseason recognition for the Zips. Last year the redshirt junior led the NCAA in solo tackles per game with 7.8 and has eclipsed the 200-tackle plateau for his career. Cornerback A.J. Watts (team high two interceptions last year) and offensive linemen Xavior Gray, along with Arslanian, were recognized as preseason All-MAC performers.
Jordan-Hare Stadium will be back to full capacity this year. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. central time. Auburn coaches have compiled an 18-7-1 mark all-time in their debut games. Coach Harsin will look to make that record 19-7-1. The Tigers are 102-16-3 all-time in home openers.