Best Case, Worst Case: Auburn’s SEC West Opponents
War Eagle, folks. Today we’re going to take a look at the best case-worst case scenarios for Auburn’s SEC West opponents during the upcoming 2017 season. First up is the Tigers’ date with the MSU Bulldogs.
Sept. 30 – Mississippi State
Mississippi State is coming off of Dan Mullen’s worse season since his first in Starkville, and questions still surround the Bulldogs entering 2017. They are yet again replacing a defensive coordinator, and expectations for the offense are a bit apprehensive. Nick Fitzgerald, an intriguing talent, has yet to show if he can be a big-time playmaker with his arm in addition to his legs.
Dan Mullen has shown the ability to score points consistently. Last year his offense scored on average only 4 points less per game than Dak Prescott’s final season in 2015. If the defense can improve marginally and the offense keeps pace with last season, Mississippi State could be a potential thorn in the side of a few SEC West contenders. Though they are picked to finish 6th in the division, I think they could potentially jump up a few spots and “steal” a game or two if they catch someone off guard.
Best Case: The Auburn defense pressures Nick Fitzgerald early and often and keeps the Mississippi State offense out of rhythm all night long. Chip Lindsey’s offense conducts a passing clinic against a woefully outmatched Mississippi State pass defense. Auburn wins comfortably with Malik Willis getting his first (albeit mop-up duty) SEC experience.
Worst Case: Nick Fitzgerald extends plays and drives by scrambling for first downs and finding open receivers on the run. The Auburn offense struggles to establish a running game and provides several turnovers for Mississippi State to take advantage of. Auburn still wins but not without raising many worrying questions entering its SEC schedule.
Why this game is important: This game opens Auburn’s SEC schedule and may very well be their first “big” win of the season. (I’ll address Clemson and Missouri next week.) Auburn needs to set the tone for the remainder of its schedule. Offensive issues should be ironed out for the most part, and the defense should be clicking and playing with a lot of energy. Mississippi State should see a heavy dose of Kamryn Pettway while a true passing threat is also established to some degree. Teams need to know we’re dangerous through the air and on the ground. This could be just the game to do that.
The rest of the schedule after the jump:
Oct. 7 – Ole Miss
Ole Miss hasn’t had the best offseason. The Rebs have had an impending NCAA case looming for quite a while, and that was compounded this summer by a Houston Nutt lawsuit against the school. The drama peaked when Hugh Freeze resigned after several calls from his phone to an escort service were discovered. Freeze explained them as simply ‘butt dials,’ but either way you look at that—they’re booty calls. Not good.
Ole Miss now has to figure out a way to actually play and win football games amid a swirling cornucopia of scandal. There is still talent on this roster, but I have to wonder how much effort will be present in many of the games on its schedule. The Rebels will enter Jordan-Hare on October 7th coming off what is likely to be a sound defeat at the hands of Alabama. This could be a game that either inspires Ole Miss or cements its demise in the SEC West.
Best Case: Ole Miss arrives hung over from a one-sided affair the previous week and lays down for good. Auburn’s defense shines while nearly pitching a shutout. Auburn’s offense has its second week of aerial dominance with Jarrett Stidham inserting himself into early Heisman talk. Auburn wins big and rolls into Baton Rouge the following week for a pivotal SEC West showdown against LSU.
Worst Case: Auburn’s passing game struggles and misses multiple key opportunities to put away Ole Miss. As a result, a lot of energy is expended in a win against a much lesser opponent. Auburn limps into Baton Rouge looking out of sync and vulnerable.
Why this game is important: This game is all about “handling your business.” The starters need to get in early and take out any chance of a Rebel Renaissance in Jordan-Hare so key backups and young players can enjoy SEC experience.
Oct. 14 – @ LSU
Traveling to LSU in mid-October is when we’ll really find out what our Tigers are made of. The second week matchup against Clemson will certainly provide flashes of brilliance, but it’s safe to say that after 6 weeks Auburn will have a strong identity heading into this matchup.
LSU has Ed Orgeron in command and right at home with the Bayou Bengals. He’s tapped Matt Canada to revive the archaic Les Miles offense, and I think he will be very effective at doing so. Quarterback Danny Etling should be in charge of a formidable, efficient offense under Canada’s tutelage. Derrius Guice will give Auburn its biggest test of the season on the ground. Overall, I think LSU will be more than inspired entering this game. The matchup the previous week against Florida in Gainesville will either inspire the purple tigers to continue their roll or provide them with an ample chip on their shoulder to return home and secure their first SEC home win of the season.
Best Case: Auburn starts quickly and doesn’t look back. Kamryn Pettway, Malik Miller, and Kam Martin lead an Auburn rushing attack that keeps the LSU offense off the field and the fans quiet for a majority of the game. By the time the LSU offense has any sort of consistency, it is too late and Auburn ices the game midway through the 4th quarter with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Stidham to Will Hastings.
Worst Case: This is easy. Basically, a repeat of 2015.
Why this game is important: Contenders? Or pretenders? This game most of the answers for us. Assuming Auburn enters with an unblemished SEC record, this game will decide if we go on to bigger and better things or stay a tier below Alabama and LSU for another season.
Oct. 21 – @ Arkansas
Arkansas is always a tricky team to predict, especially so under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks are installing a new defense and trying to season young receivers on the fly in 2017. Austin Allen was a pleasant surprise for them last year, but his followup campaign could honestly go in either direction. They’re certainly no pushover. After all, this is an SEC road game, and anything can happen on the road in the nation’s toughest conference.
The biggest concern here, for me, is execution and health. Arkansas is the middle of a rigorous three-game SEC road trip for Auburn. It would be very easy for Auburn to enter this game lacking focus, momentum, health, or all three.
Best Case: Auburn is able to control the line of scrimmage much like it did last year and dominate the Hogs en route to a solid victory. Arkansas attempts to get back into the game, but the quick-strike scoring ability of the Auburn offense keeps it at bay all 4 quarters, and the Tigers escape Fayetteville without feeling any real danger.
Worst Case: Auburn is forced to slug it out with Arkansas at its own game, supplemented with mental mistakes and turnovers. Auburn loses a head scratcher, and Bielema gets his revenge from last season.
Why this game is important: Maintaining momentum and handing a loss to a team that is highly motivated to repay a beatdown from the previous season. Arkansas has been a thorn in the side of Auburn on several occasions, and a solid victory here usually spells good things for Auburn teams down the road.
Nov. 4 – @ Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin enters 2017 with a plethora of questions surrounding the Aggies. Inexperience at quarterback and key skill positions could serve to limit Texas A&M this season, but many are looking to Sumlin to provide a much-needed spark for the program. It’s anybody’s guess what the Aggies will actually be able to accomplish on the field this season, but it certainly looks like they will have an uphill battle to navigate and regain serious SEC West success.
Best Case: Much like 2013, Auburn is able to run the ball almost at will and limit the Aggies’ scoring opportunities. This Auburn team is much more talented on defense than the 2013 squad and will be facing a much less talented offense in Texas A&M. On paper, it appears Auburn should be able to handle the Aggies comfortably.
Worst Case: The 12th man proves to be too strong a force to overcome, and Auburn falters in the rubber match of its 3-game SEC road trip. This could very well be a low point of the season for the Tigers if the offense struggles in this contest.
Why this game is important: Depending on how the games before this play out, this could serve either to bolster Auburn’s increasing momentum or get it back on track heading to the Iron Bowl. A win in Baton Rouge likely translates to a win here as well, but again, anything can happen. If Auburn survives this contest and remains unbeaten in SEC play, it sets up another blockbuster matchup against Alabama at the end of November.
Nov. 25 – Alabama
There’s not much I can say about Alabama we don’t already know. It will show up prepared to play and will likely enter with either one loss or none. The SEC West has gone through Tuscaloosa most seasons since Nick Saban took over, and 2017 won’t be any different.
Best Case: Auburn keeps a vaunted Alabama defense on its heels all night with timely play-calling and tremendous playmaking by Stidham, talented young receivers, and Pettway plundering 1st down yardage at will. It’s still a close contest, but Auburn throws a dagger late in the 4th quarter on a Jarrett Stidham to Sal Cannella connection that puts Auburn up by 10 points with just a few minutes left to play.
Worst Case: Alabama shuts down Pettway, and the Auburn offense has no counterattack in its passing game. Likewise, the Alabama offense moves the ball with ease and is never threatened or slowed by the Auburn defense.
Why this game is important: This is the game we wait for all year. Only the best Auburn teams have challenged Alabama since Saban’s arrival (with 2009 being the lone exception). As much as it hurts to write, Alabama has set the standard in recent seasons. A tight contest here means Auburn is on the right track. Another blowout only confirms our status as a pretender.