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Why Auburn will -- or won't -- make the playoff

It was a disappointing finish to 2014, one that has Auburn fans a bit restless despite being just two years removed from playing in the national championship, but the pieces are in place for the Tigers to return to college football's biggest stage.

And these days, the fans won't be happy if they fall short. The expectation at Auburn is to make the College Football Playoff and win the national championship. Easy, right?

Here's a look back at the rest of this series from the SEC.

Why Auburn will make the playoff

  • Quarterback play: How do you upgrade from a guy who became only the third player in Auburn history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000? By turning the offense over to Jeremy Johnson, that's how. Johnson isn't Nick Marshall. It doesn't matter what he tries to tell you. It doesn't matter what the coaches tell you. He's a different quarterback, and the offense is going to look different as a result. But that doesn't mean there will be any kind of drop-off in production. If anything, Johnson's ability to throw the ball makes the Tigers even more dangerous. With the exception of Dak Prescott, he's as good as any quarterback in the SEC, and though, the Heisman talk might be premature, it's not crazy.

  • Revamped offensive line: It's no secret that Auburn's success, good or bad, the past couple seasons has been largely correlated with the play of the offensive line. In 2013, it was the backbone for an offense that led the nation in rushing. Last season, injuries and struggles down the stretch wound up hurting the Tigers. This year's unit should look more like the 2013 version. Avery Young has finally found a home at right tackle. Shon Coleman looked much improved this spring at left tackle. And though the interior line will miss Reese Dismukes, the return of Alex Kozan and the addition of Austin Golson should help alleviate his loss.

  • Lawson's return: You could argue that no player in the SEC was missed more last season than Carl Lawson. The elite pass-rusher was primed for a breakout season before tearing his ACL during spring practice. His absence crushed this defense. Auburn couldn't get to the quarterback which in turn led to coverage breakdowns in the secondary. It was a mess. Lawson, who returned in a limited fashion this spring, is expected to be 100 percent by the beginning of fall camp, and his presence immediately makes this unit better.

Why Auburn won't make the playoff

  • Secondary concerns: New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp wasn't listed above, not because he won't improve what was a bad defense from last season, but because it might take some time. As good as Muschamp has proven to be over the years, Auburn simply doesn't have the talent or depth in the secondary right now. It was a problem area last year, and there's no guarantee it will get fixed this season. If anybody were to get hurt, the new coaching staff might be relying on a handful of true freshmen to fill that void. That's a scary thought.

  • The grind of the SEC: Considering that Auburn gets Alabama and Georgia at home this year, as well as both Mississippi schools, the schedule should be considered a positive. But no schedule that includes eight bowl teams from a year ago and six teams ranked in the "Too-Early Top 25" is what you'd call a positive. The first half of the schedule is manageable, but beginning Oct. 24 at Arkansas, the Tigers play four SEC games in four weeks. Getting through that unscathed might be dang near impossible, and two weeks after that is the Iron Bowl. This Auburn team has the talent to make the playoff, but it won't be easy with this schedule.