No. 6 Auburn: Can Jeremy Johnson, Will Muschamp D bring the Tigers back to SEC glory? (Dr. Saturday)

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Dr. Saturday will unveil its preseason Top 25 team-by-team during the next 25 days. This list is based on returning starters, schedule and prospects. However, we all know that once the games begin, things can change very quickly. Still, we thought we’d give our best guess heading into the 2015 season. No. 6 Auburn 2014 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football: Sign up and join a league today! ] 2015 Outlook:  Coming off a national title game loss in 2013, year two of the Gus Malzahn era at Auburn hit a sophomore slump. The Tigers looked like an SEC title contender by starting the year 7-1, but lost four of their last five games – including an overtime defeat against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl – to finish 8-5. The Tigers lost eight starters on offense coming into 2015, but expectations are as high as ever. One reason for that is new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Johnson didn’t see a whole lot of action as the backup behind Nick Marshall. But when he did play, he played well, throwing for 858 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 73.1 percent of his passes. Not too shabby. Marshall was a top-level runner for a quarterback, and Malzahn used Marshall’s skillset to his advantage. Johnson can certainly run, but at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he’s a different kind of runner. Not to mention, the junior is an incredibly accurate passer. Sammie Coates and Quan Bray are gone, but the extremely talented Duke Williams returns ( we think ) along with Ricardo Louis. Junior college transfer Jason Smith also enters the mix at wideout, giving Johnson plenty of weapons. Standout running back Cameron Artis-Payne is also out of the picture and sophomore Roc Thomas and five-star junior college transfer Jovon Robinson are expected to carry the load behind an offensive line that lost three starters, but return starters Avery Young and Shon Coleman. Additionally, Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson is eligible to play and guard Alex Kozan is back from an injury. The Tigers’ line should be just fine. Another reason for high expectations is new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Before his up-and-down tenure as head coach at Florida, Muschamp was one of the best DC’s in the country at LSU, Texas and a previous two-year stint at Auburn. He was presented a big challenge with what Ellis Johnson left behind, but has plenty of talent at his disposal with seven returning starters and an abundance of highly rated underclassmen. Seniors Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are back at linebacker while senior corner Jonathan Jones (six interceptions in ’14) and junior Johnathan Ford (team-leading 96 tackles) lead the secondary. Additionally, Carl Lawson returns from a torn ACL to lead a deep group of ends. Muschamp will also benefit from a couple of transfers, too, in ex-Georgia safety Tray Matthews (a likely starter) and graduate transfer Blake Countess (Michigan). This new-look Auburn squad will be put to the test early with three of its first four games against Louisville in Atlanta, at LSU and hosting Mississippi State. That slate should give an early indication of what this Jeremy Johnson-led team is made of. The Tigers also have a brutal four-week stretch beginning in late October: at Arkansas (Oct. 24), vs. Ole Miss (Oct. 31), at Texas A&M (Nov. 7) and vs. Georgia (Nov. 14). Those are plenty of hurdles to climb before hosting Alabama for the Iron Bowl on Nov. 27. With a schedule like that, which (on paper) looks to be full of close games, the Tigers could potentially be a College Football Playoff contender –  even with two losses. Above all, a defense that allowed nearly 400 yards per game and 39 points per game in its final five SEC games needs to improve.  Player to watch: D'haquille "Duke" Williams, WR Williams came to Auburn in 2014 as a decorated junior college recruit and made his presence felt in his first season with the Tigers. Despite missing a few games with an ankle injury, Williams led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns.  The 6-foot-3 wideout is considered one of the best in the SEC, but he has made more headlines for disciplinary reasons than his on-field performance in recent months. It started with a suspension for breaking team rules prior to last year's Outback Bowl. Those trangressions have continued into preseason camp. Williams was suspended for the beginning of camp until Malzahn reinstated him on Aug. 13. Upon his return, Malzahn put Williams at the bottom of the depth chart. He has also been battling another ankle injury. If the Tigers are going to put together a memorable season, they need Williams back on the field and in the good graces of his coaches and teammates. He's simply too talented of a player to let behavioral issues get in the way of his potential – especially with a guy like Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. Breakout players: Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson, RBs Cameron Artis-Payne produced in a big way for the Tigers in 2014 with 1,608 rushing yards and 13 TDs. In 2015, it looks like the Tigers will rely on the duo of Thomas and Robinson. Thomas has been lauded by the coaching staff for his steady and consistent all-around play. He got a taste of SEC play as Artis-Payne's backup last year, totaling 214 yards and two touchdowns.  Thomas will probably get the first crack as starter when the season rolls around, but Robinson, a five-star junior college recruit, figures to be involved sooner rather than later. His numbers at the junior college level are staggering: 3,198 yards and 43 touchdowns in two seasons. Still, the adjustment to the FBS level takes time. Once the 230-pound Robinson becomes acclimated, SEC defenses should be on high alert. Miss one of our Top 25? No. 7 Michigan State,   No. 8 Florida State,   No. 9 Clemson ,  No. 10 Oregon,   No. 11 Georgia,   No. 12 Notre Dame,   No. 13 UCLA,   No. 14 LSU ,  No. 15 Georgia Tech ,  No. 16 Arkansas ,  No. 17 Ole Miss ,  No. 18 Arizona State ,  No. 19 Oklahoma ,  No. 20 Arizona ,  No. 21 Tennessee ,  No. 22 Missouri ,  No. 23 Stanford ,  No. 24 Boise State ,  No. 25 Wisconsin . For more Auburn news, visit AuburnSports.com . - - - - - - - Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter! Follow @SamDCooper

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