AUBURN – After a long off-season, the new era of Auburn football is set to begin in just five days.

The Tigers welcome the UMass Minutemen into Jordan-Hare Stadium. UMass took on New Mexico State, an opponent that Auburn will face later this season, on Saturday and came away with a 41-30 victory.

"I've played them (UMass) every year for the last four years," Freeze said. "I saw drastic improvement last year under Coach (Don) Brown. I have great respect for him, I think he's one of the best defensive play callers in the country. Last year their record was atrocious and they had a top-10 defense in the country."

Auburn has been dealing with some injuries towards the end of camp, but Freeze is optimistic that everyone will be ready to go this weekend.

"Right now I'd say J.D. Rhym is questionable, Nick Mardner, Jalen McLeod," Freeze said. "Nehemiah Pritchett I think will go. Robby Ashford is dealing with an oblique strain but I think he'll go, too. It wouldn't shock me if all of those went, truthfully, but it wouldn't shock me if some of them didn't play either. Our list is pretty short and hopefully, a lot of them will make progress this week."

Freeze has been anticipating his return to the SEC for a while, and he is looking forward to taking in the moment on Saturday.

"I soak in every game, pretty much," Freeze said. "Even at Liberty, we've played in SEC arenas. Those are always fun to play in and I embrace those opportunities. I think one of the most exciting things for me will be taking in what I consider to be one of the best home atmospheres in college football. No offense to any other place I've been, but I don't think I've ever been at a place that has quite the enthusiasm and passion and energy that I think Jordan-Hare is going to have."

Payton Thorne will lead the Tigers' offense to start the season. Freeze is confident in the work ethic of his quarterback.

"His attention to every little thing," Freeze said on what he likes about Thorne. "He's got an advantage. He's in grad school and he has a lot of time. It's important to him and I sure hope it translates into his decision-making come Saturday no that we're not just running stuff against a defense that doesn't really know what they're doing."

Running back is expected to be a position of strength for the Tigers this season. Position coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has mentioned that it might be the deepest group he's ever coached. Freeze gave his thoughts on the room.

"The facts are if you're able to run the ball you can shorten the game," Freeze said. "I think that may be advantageous to us this year. I do think our running back room is very solid top-to-bottom and we're going to lean on them heavily."

The wait is almost over for Freeze and the Auburn football team. Kick-off is set for 2:30 p.m. CT. ESPN will have the broadcast.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.