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SEC season review: Auburn Tigers

In September, many believed Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was about to be fired. In October, Auburn looked like the biggest threat to Alabama and a possible contender for the College Football Playoff. At the end of November, the Tigers finished the regular season somewhere in between.

Here’s a look back at Auburn’s 2016 season.

Best moment: There were a couple games in October when Auburn looked unstoppable, but it never would’ve been possible if not for the touchdown that didn’t count in the LSU game. In what was one of the crazier games in college football this season, LSU scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired to beat Auburn. But after reviewing the play, the officials decided the play clock had already run out before the ball was snapped. Jordan-Hare Stadium erupted as disappointment turned into jubilation for the coaches, the players and the fans. That play and that game changed the course of the season for the Tigers, who went on to win their next five games.

Worst moment: All Auburn had to do was beat Georgia and its chances of winning the SEC and reaching the playoff would have still been intact. Instead, the Tigers played arguably their worst game of the season, at least from an offensive perspective, and their title hopes came to a bitter end two weeks earlier than expected. The defense did its part, keeping Georgia’s offense out of the end zone the entire game, but with Kamryn Pettway out and Sean White not at 100 percent, the Tigers couldn’t even muster a first down in the second half.

Player of the year: Defensive linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are both deserving of this honor, but because Auburn selected Adams as the team MVP at last week’s awards banquet, we’ll go with the senior defensive tackle. It took time, but Adams grew into one of the team leaders this year and was consistent day in and day out. He finished with 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He also blocked two kicks, pulled down an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown against Mississippi State.

Breakout player: Had Pettway stayed healthy and played every game, he would’ve likely been discussed in the above category. Instead, he only played in eight games and was not close to 100 percent against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. But in terms of breakout player, there’s not a more deserving option on the team. Pettway was an H-back in 2015 and didn’t receive a single carry. In eight games this season, he finished with 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns. There was a four-game stretch in the middle of the season where he gained 169, 192, 236 and 173 yards against SEC opponents. He's already announced he’s returning for 2017.

Play of the year: The final play in the LSU game might have been more meaningful. But if you’re looking for the play that was most likely to end up on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list, it was Kerryon Johnson’s 47-yard run against Arkansas State. On a third-and-5, White flipped it to Johnson on the sideline as he was falling down. Johnson eluded one tackler, spun around another and then took off across the field. He sprinted from one side of the field to the other and even hurdled a final defender before diving head first across the goal line.

2017 outlook: Auburn received a major boost Wednesday when former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham signed with the Tigers. White did his part this year and the offense looked terrific at times with him at quarterback, but Stidham could take Auburn's offense to the next level in 2017, especially with up to seven other starters potentially returning. If the defense can fill the void left by Adams and Lawson up front and duplicate what it did in Year 1 under Kevin Steele, then Auburn has a team equipped to make a run at an SEC championship.