Bryan Harsin era opens as Auburn hosts Akron

NCAA Football

Bryan Harsin makes his Auburn coaching debut when the Tigers host Akron in Saturday night’s season opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It is the first of two anticipated tune-up games for Auburn before traveling to No. 19 Penn State later this month.

The unranked Tigers are big favorites over the Zips, who are coming off a 1-5 season and are picked to finish fifth this fall in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. The Tigers host Alabama State, an FCS program, on Sept. 11.

Brought to the Plains after a successful six-year stint at Boise State, where he went 69-19, Harsin had to stay home two weeks in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He returned to practice Monday and doesn’t see his absence from the field as a major factor in preparing for the Zips.

“I’ve been able to watch practice live so I’ve got that, which has been great,” he said last week. “Actually, I’ve been able to see some things you don’t usually get when you have that bird’s-eye view.”

Junior quarterback Bo Nix and leading rusher Tank Bigsby are among seven returning starters on offense and linebackers Zakoby McClain, Owen Pappoe, and Chandler Wooten return on defense.

Nix has passed for 4,957 yards in starting the last two years. Bigsby rushed for 834 yards in 10 games as a freshman in 2020.

McClain was Auburn’s top tackler (113) in 2020, and Pappoe and Wooten have been named permanent co-captains for 2021. Pappoe had 93 stops last year but Wooten sat out 2020 over COVID concerns.

The Tigers lost a potential starter up front when defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell, left the team before fall camp and transferred to Florida. He had 19 career starts.

Akron welcomes back quarterback Kato Nelson and linebacker Bubba Arslanian. Arslanian had 74 tackles in just six games to lead the Zips. Nelson sat out 2020 after having shoulder surgery. He made 10 starts in 2019, passing for 1,820 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I’m feeling great,” Nelson said. “I’m healthy.”

Coach Tom Arth, who is 1-17 in two years at Akron, is hoping that the experience gained in last year’s abbreviated season pays dividends.

“Even though it was half of a traditional year, those six games were valuable to us in the development of our roster,” he said.

–Field Level Media

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