Jeremy Johnson saw limited action in 2014 for Auburn.
AUBURN (8-5, 4-4 SEC last season)
2014 postseason: Lost to Wisconsin in Outback Bowl
Final AP rank: 22nd
Returning starters: 4 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 18th
Practice: Begins Tuesday
Spring game: April 18
• How does Auburn’s offense evolve with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback?
Under coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn has been dominant running the ball. In the past two seasons combined, the Tigers have led the conference in expected points added on rushes, rushes per game and rush yards per game. But Auburn will lose its top three rushers from last season: Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Nick Marshall.
Auburn offense under Gus Malzahn
Without those players, expect Auburn to turn to its passing game more often if Jeremy Johnson wins the quarterback job. In limited action last year, Johnson dropped back to pass on 49 percent of his plays, compared with 38 percent for Marshall.
On passing plays, Johnson was extremely effective. He completed 75.7 percent of his passes and averaged a whopping 11.8 yards per pass attempt in six games played for the Tigers. He was 8-for-8 for 153 yards and a touchdown when targeting Duke Williams, who will return to Auburn for the 2015 season.
• Can Will Muschamp turn around the defense?
After Auburn’s 55-44 loss in last year’s Iron Bowl, the Tigers fired second-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. During his tenure as defensive coordinator, the Tigers were seventh in the SEC in defensive efficiency and were in the bottom half of the conference rankings in nearly every traditional defensive category.
Auburn defense under Ellis Johnson
In the past two seasons, Auburn scored two defensive touchdowns, tied for fewest in the league. When Will Muschamp, whom Auburn hired to succeed Johnson, was Florida’s head coach, the Gators were sixth in the SEC in defensive efficiency his first season and second in the conference his final three seasons.
• Which junior college transfer will make the biggest impact this season?
Over the past few seasons, junior college transfers have played a huge role in Auburn’s success. Players such as Marshall and Cam Newton have made immediate impacts. Last season, D’haquille “Duke” Williams led the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns despite missing two games. Williams was the No. 1 junior college wide receiver in 2013. This season, the Tigers signed the No. 1 junior college running back, Jovon Robinson.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Maty Mauk fared much worse against AP-ranked teams than against unranked opponents.
MISSOURI (11-3, 7-1 SEC last season)
2014 postseason: Defeated Minnesota in Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Final AP rank: 14th
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist (via Phil Steele)
2015 ESPN FPI rank: 24th
Practice: Begins Wednesday
Spring game: April 18
• Can Missouri replace its top 2 pass rushers … again?
A year ago, Missouri was looking to replace its top two pass rushers, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. They were responsible for 20.5 of Missouri’s SEC-leading 41 sacks in 2013.
Missouri starting defensive ends
last 2 seasons
Not only did the Tigers replace Sam and Ealy, but they also increased their sack total to 44 in 2014. Last season’s starting defensive ends, Shane Ray and Markus Golden, accounted for 24.5 of those sacks.
This offseason, the Tigers brought in Barry Odom as defensive coordinator along with Phil Pitts, who will serve as defensive analyst. The top prospects to replace Ray and Golden are Marcus Loud and Charles Harris, redshirt freshmen last season, as well as junior-to-be Rickey Hatley.
• Can Maty Mauk play well against top teams?
In his first full season as starting quarterback, Maty Mauk had his ups and downs. Mauk faced three teams last season that were ranked in the AP poll at the time of the game: Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. In those three games, Mauk had a QBR of 27 and threw one touchdown and four interceptions. In all other games against FBS teams, Mauk had a QBR of 59 with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
If Mauk is going to improve, he’ll have to do it with new receivers. The Tigers will lose their top four receivers from last season; they lost their top three after the 2013 season. Expect J’Mon Moore to emerge along with rising senior Wesley Leftwich.
• Can Missouri make it three straight trips to the SEC Championship Game?
Despite being in the SEC for three football seasons, Missouri has been to the SEC championship more times than Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Florida and Alabama are the only programs to reach the SEC Championship game in three consecutive years.
SEC spring practice series