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Auburn Tigers are not playoff contender we all thought they were

Auburn receiver D'haquille Williams has just seven receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown this season. Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire

Raise your hand if you predicted Auburn to reach the College Football Playoff this season. Don't feel bad if you have your hand up. Mine is up. Over half of the experts on ESPN would have their hands up. And there would be a lot of hands raised from the group at SEC media days that picked the Tigers to win the conference.

What happened? Where did we all go wrong?

To be fair, Auburn isn't technically out of it. At 2-1, the Tigers could still run the table and get back into the conversation like they did in 2013. But this team looks nothing like that 2013 team.

Sure, we all felt good about our pick after the Week 1 victory over Louisville. There were concerns -- the defense let up in the second half and Jeremy Johnson threw three interceptions -- but Auburn was one holding penalty away from going up 31-3 at one point in the second half.

But then came the near scare against FCS foe Jacksonville State. Trailing late in the game, the Tigers scored with less than a minute left to tie it and then won the game in overtime, avoiding what might have been one of the biggest upsets in college football history. That was meant to be a wake-up call, a turning point early in the season.

It wasn't.

This past Saturday, Auburn was simply outplayed by LSU in every facet of the game. This went from a team with championship aspirations to a team that might win eight games. It's far from a guarantee that they beat Mississippi State at home (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) this weekend.

"When you go through adverse times, you find out exactly who's all in," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on a radio show Monday. "That's something good moving forward. Our guys have been a close group, and now we're going through a little adversity, so we'll find out our true character. I really expect us to come together and get better."

Is it too late, though? And again, how did we miss so badly on this team?

We all assumed certain things were going to happen, and they haven't, at least not up to this point in the season.

The quarterback position was in good hands with Johnson

If there was one position that nobody was concerned about, it was quarterback. Sure, Auburn lost two-year starter Nick Marshall. But the transition to Johnson was supposed to be seamless. He had waited his turn, while still showing off his ability in various games his first two years on campus, and now he was ready to be a star.

A lot of people had him as a darkhorse contender for the Heisman Trophy.

But through three games, Johnson has been anything but solid. He's thrown six interceptions, fumbled once, and looks mentally scared on the field.

The return of D'haquille Williams would solidify this WR group

Some thought Williams would join fellow wide receiver Sammie Coates and declare early for the NFL draft. He was among the SEC leaders in 2014 with 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. But to the delight of Auburn fans, he opted to return for his senior season.

Williams hasn't been his usual self, though. Through three games, he has just seven catches for 81 yards. He had better numbers in the first half against Arkansas last season.

Where's that player from last year? Where's the guy that was basically unstoppable in the Iron Bowl despite playing on one good leg? This team desperately needs a playmaker, and Williams has not been that guy.

The addition of coordinator Will Muschamp would turn around the defense

This might have been wishful thinking on our part. As good a defensive coordinator as Muschamp is, he can't perform miracles. Auburn simply doesn't have the talent or the depth yet on that side of the ball, especially with key players missing time the past two weeks.

But Auburn's defense looked worse against LSU this past Saturday than it did at any point last season. Leonard Fournette ran over, around and through this group. Some couldn't tackle him. Others just got out his way.

Nobody thought it would be quite this bad.

All told, Auburn is not a legitimate playoff contender. We were wrong. But there's still time to salvage the season and at least get the ship back on course.