Record-wise, we have definitely seen several surprises in the SEC this year.
Most prognosticators have missed the mark for where Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and even Missouri will finish this year. But in my mind, the biggest surprise this season, without a doubt, has been Auburn.
Sorry, Missouri, by the end of the year you’ll likely have three losses and be another also-ran in the East.
Auburn, meanwhile, is coming off of a putrid 3-9 season where it looked like most of the team quit. Though Gene Chizik had recruited decently, I thought for sure it would take a season or two for Gus Malzahn to run off the deadbeats and get the program turned around – if he could indeed turn it around.
Instead, Malzahn has the Tigers sitting at 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the country. And with games coming up against horrible Arkansas, rebuilding Tennessee and decimated Georgia, the Tigers have a great shot at being 10-1 heading into the Iron Bowl.
That’s quite a turn around.
But here’s the thing. Through eight games, I’m not sure anyone knows just how good Auburn is. Yes, they beat Texas A&M at College Station – just like Alabama did with a lot of offense and very little defense. But they are also a team that lost their only other meaningful contest – LSU (albeit in the rain) – and I’m not sure we really know how good LSU is. The other six wins are against Washington State, Arkansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. That’s not exactly Murderer’s Row. That’s not an insult to Auburn. They’ve beaten seven of the eight teams they’ve played and you have to feel good about that (especially after the 2012 season).
I’ve actually been fairly impressed with the Tigers. They look prepared for each game and they execute their offense very efficiently. Take the Texas A&M game for example. Though A&M barely plays defense, I think it was Auburn’s credit that they were able to keep the pace offensively for the entire game. They didn’t play a perfect game, but they were able to keep up and finally take the lead. And I think that’s saying something with a first-year quarterback and first-year system (though Malzahn had not been gone from Auburn very long).
Defensively, Auburn gives up a ton of yardage, but somehow limits the damage and only allows 20.5 points per game.
From an Alabama fan’s perspective it doesn’t take much of a brain to see where this season is headed. The Tide should get by LSU on November 9th – at least that’s looking a bit easier – and Mississippi State and Chattanooga shouldn’t be much of a bother, either. As I mentioned above, Auburn’s likely to enter the Iron Bowl 10-1. That means an 11-0 Alabama team and a one-loss Auburn team playing for the right to go to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
I think most Alabama fans – despite the record – totally dismiss Auburn. Most feel that there’s no way the team beaten 49-0 last year could in any way compete with the two-time defending national champions that blitzed Auburn 49-0 last year. I think those fans are in for a surprise.
So what do I think about Auburn? I’m not sure yet.
On paper, I see a team with an offense averaging 511 yards per game through eight games and scoring 37 points per game. Those numbers are good for second and fifth, respectively, in the league so far this year. But factor out the non-conference games and you see a team averaging 471.5 yards and 30 points.
Defensively, the Tigers are 11th in the conference (405.5) in yards allowed, but allow a whopping 484.5 yards a game in SEC games. While they allow 20.5 points per game, that number jumps to 29.5 in SEC games only.
You also see a team with a middling third down conversion rate (44.76), pretty bad turnover margin (-.13) and below average passing game (195.6 yards per game).
You also see a team that will be playing at home, a team that should be playing with a lot of confidence and momentum and a team playing for something – a chance to go to Atlanta and win a championship. And all of this can be done by beating their arch rival and the two-time defending national champs.
In the end, I’m fairly confident that ‘Bama takes care of business and takes care of it rather convincingly. Why do I say this?
1) I think Alabama is more talented, better coached and also has something for which to play.
2) I think Alabama, barring turnovers, should be able to move the ball and score regularly against the Auburn defense. The Tide sliced and diced Tennessee last week. In conference games, Tennessee’s defense is sixth in yards allow; Auburn is 11th. Maybe you can throw the record books out in rivalry games, but Auburn still has to play with their defense.
3) I think Alabama’s defense will allow some yards and points to Auburn, but the Tide’s D will be nothing like what Auburn as played so far this year – or will play.
That’s how I see it, folks. This game will be huge based on the records, but on the field, ‘Bama should dominate.