No. 10 Auburn

There is pain, unbearable pain, and then there is what Auburn felt when last January when it watched Georgia and Alabama play for the national championship.

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Georgia and Alabama entered the game in Atlanta with a grand total of two losses between them. Both losses came against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium last November.

I was at both games and trust me when I tell you that on those two days, Auburn was the best team in country.

"No doubt about it," Georgia coach Kirby Smart told me.

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But Auburn had a rematch with Georgia in the SEC championship game on the Saturday after the Tigers had laid it all on the line in beating Alabama (24-14). Running back Kerryon Johnson was beat up and nothing near 100 percent. It showed as Georgia won 28-7 and advanced to the playoffs. Alabama got in as the No. 4 seed and won it all.

If you're an Auburn fan it doesn't get more brutal than that.

"It was tough to watch," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

But there is good news for Auburn in 2018:

**--Quarterback Jarrett Stidham (3,158 yards passing) returns and will be given more freedom than ever to run the offense. He's earned it and Malzahn trusts him. That's important. This marks only the second time under Malzahn that Auburn has returned its starting quarterback from the previous season.

**--Four seniors were lost off the offensive line but there is a lot of talent there for new OL coach J.B. Grimes. Some people see the OL as a big question mark. I don't. I think they are going to be good.

**--The defense, which gave up only 18.5 points per game last season, will be even better. Yep. You read that right.

Now, the concerns:

**--Auburn has posted nine straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. Kam Martin is next in line but he has had durability issues.

**--The schedule flips and thus Auburn has to play both Georgia (Nov. 10) and Alabama (Nov. 24) on the road. I'm betting that both Georgia and Alabama will be in the top five when those games are played.

And there is a rather large non-conference game with Washington in Atlanta to open the season.

Malzahn seems pretty relaxed about things. He should be. He just got a new 7-year, $49 million contract ($36.75 million guaranteed).

I see a 10-2 season (losses to Georgia and Alabama) and a nice trip to a New Year's Day bowl.

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