College Football: Auburn Rising

Do you believe in Auburn?

Do you think that in the rugged Southeastern Conference, a team can go undefeated in 2006 and then win the SEC title game in Atlanta to play in the BCS championship game? Can a team beat LSU, Florida and Georgia in the same year and then fight for a possible rematch (or a date with Tennessee) for all the marbles?

Your answer to that question may have been heavily influenced by Auburn’s milquetoast performance last Thursday night in South Carolina. Favored by 13, the Tigers struggled to contain the Gamecocks game (to coin a phrase), nearly wasting a 24-10 lead before stopping Steve Spurrier’s troops, 24-17, at Auburn 6 with under 20 seconds. for playing. Running back Kenny Irons was great, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Brandon Cox did the goalie thing, he didn’t flip the ball while completing 13 of 19 passes. But the Tigers’ pass defense was shaky, allowing South Carolina wide receiver Kenny McKinley to go wide again and again, with eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Auburn had been one of the top 20 pass defenses, but the tight coverage it showed against LSU was missing from Columbia last week.

So this weekend Auburn has what is supposed to be relative respite: a home game against the extremely young Arkansas Razorbacks. Irons is a Heisman candidate, and Arkansas is ranked 100th in Division IA to stop the race. Razorback’s racing game is pretty strong on its own – sophomore Darren McFadden has two 100+ yard racing games so far this year and will be playing on Sundays one day, and certainly Houston Nutt will try to keep up. ball away from Irons & Co. for as long as possible. possible. Do Cox and his receivers, primarily junior great Courtney Taylor and sophomore Rodgeriqus Smith, have enough firepower to cover a big difference in a conference game?

In a word: yes. Auburn has covered three straight seasons against the Razorbacks and has every matchup going for it. Irons won’t take his foot off the gas if he wants to keep up with Ohio State’s Troy Smith for the Heisman. As I mentioned, Arkansas’ fast defense has struggled against players like Alabama and Vanderbilt; Auburn’s ground attack is in a completely different stratosphere. And the Hogs also want to run like crazy (they average 5.6 yards per carry), but Auburn only allows 2.4 yards per carry, putting them in the top 20 nationally. There is simply no comparison between these defenses in terms of size and speed.

The trends also mainly favor the Tigers. Auburn is 11-4 against differential in its last 15 overall. He is also 7-2 ATS in his last nine home games, 23-9-1 ATS in his last 33 conference games and 5-1 ATS in his last six games in which he was favored by 10.5 or more points. In other words: when this team is the favorite to win big, they win big. Arkansas is 0-4 ATS in its last four games (all this year) and 2-7 ATS in the weeks following a straight win. Admittedly, the Hogs are also 3-0 ATS in their last games in which they have been an underdog of 10.5 points or worse, so historically they know how to keep potential explosions close. But my problem is, the Arkansas teams that did that have already graduated; This year’s team, led by a freshman quarterback named Mitch Mustain, is extremely green, and it showed when the team was decimated by USC (at home), 50-14 as a 7.5-point underdog. Of course Auburn doesn’t pitch like SC does, but I don’t think it matters, because the Razorbacks won’t be able to stop Irons. I’m sticking with Auburn (-15.5) as host to Arkansas, and I hope the Tigers aren’t looking forward to their big showdown with Florida next week.

Last week: another sweat-free Saturday night. I had Houston, getting 17 points, in Miami, and the Hurricanes struggled to even win the game, let alone beat the Cougars by 17. In the end, Miami was able to get the game out, but only by a score of 14-13. So another easy, non-ulcer-inducing cover for us. For the year, we are now 4-1 against differential and on a four-week winning streak.

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