Wrapping Up the Regular Season
An offensive MVP
War Eagle, everybody. Auburn, and SEC, football are now over for the year except for a flurry of bowl games around New Year’s weekend. Auburn is headed for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day to play the undefeated Central Florida Golden Knights. That game will kick off at 11:30 AM Central Standard Time, and it will be televised on ESPN.
Auburn will have to show up ready to play. UCF would love nothing more than to come in and knock off an upper echelon SEC team and make a case for why it was a mistake to leave the American Conference Champion out of the playoff. I remember a Liberty Bowl back in 2010 involving Central Florida. Georgia thought that it would cakewalk through that one. Instead, Central Florida beat the Bulldogs, 10–6.
Competition on television will be fierce for this game. New Year’s Day is on a Monday, and there was a bit of a scramble to get all of the bowl games played on Saturday and Monday and not go head to head with the NFL on Sunday. Auburn is playing basically in the same time slot as 2 other bowls, all kicking off on or before noon. Michigan plays South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and LSU plays Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl.
After the jump, we’ll take a look back at this season, and Auburn’s opponents. It’s hard to fathom that just 4 months ago a lot of the discussion around Auburn was whether or not head coach Gus Malzahn would be around at the end of the year. Now, Gus’ job is quite secure, and he’ll be well compensated going forward. This was a year of unprecedented bloodletting in the SEC with 6 teams having to find a new head coach within the span of 6 months.
Auburn opened the season at home against Georgia Southern. The Eagles had high hopes this year, returning to their option-running roots. The triple option went nowhere against Auburn as the Eagles were held without any offensive points. Their lone score came on a sack-fumble scoop and score. Auburn rolled over the Eagles by the score of 41–7. Georgia Southern had a train wreck of a season, which saw head coach Tyson Summers get fired midway through the season. The Eagles finished 2–10 on the year and in next to last place in the Sun Belt Conference.
Auburn then traveled to Clemson to take on the defending national champions. The Tigers were able to dink and dunk the ball down the field early for a pair of field goals, but then the Clemson defense asserted itself. Auburn managed only 38 rushing yards on the day and gave up 11 quarterback sacks. Auburn fell, 14-–6. Clemson finished the regular season 11–1, and waxed Miami in the ACC title game, 38–3. Clemson is the top seed in the college football playoff and will take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night.
Homecoming came early to Auburn this year as Auburn hosted the Mercer Bears. Auburn chewed up the passing yards in this one as Jarrett had a season-high 364 yards. However, Auburn turned the ball over 5 times, and it was close till well into the 4th quarter. Auburn won, 24–10, but it was hardly an inspiring win. Mercer finished the season 5–6 overall, 4–4 in the FCS Southern Conference.
Next up was a road trip to Columbia, Missouri. Auburn jumped on the Missouri Tigers early and often with Kerryon Johnson scoring Auburn’s first 5 touchdowns on the ground. Auburn led 31–7 at the half and coasted to a 51–14 win. Missouri started the season just 1–5 but rebounded to win its last 6 games in a row. Mizzou finished the season 7–5, 4–4 in the SEC. It is headed to the Texas Bowl in Houston on Wednesday the 27th to face the Texas Longhorns.
Auburn returned home to host a dangerous Mississippi State squad. Auburn got out to a bit of a slow start, leading just 21–10 at the half. The Tigers did shut down dangerous MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, and the floodgates opened in the second half as Auburn exploded to a 49–10 win. Mississippi State finished the season 8–4, 4–4 in the SEC. It will head to the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday, December 30th to take on Louisville.
Ole Miss traveled to Auburn and ran into a buzz saw in the first half. Auburn raced out to a 35–3 halftime lead, shifted into neutral, and allowed some consolation touchdowns. Auburn won the game, 44–23. Ole Miss struggled through a difficult season with interim coach Matt Luke but came up with a huge Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State to finish the season at 6–6, 3–5 in the SEC.
In Baton Rouge Auburn roared out to a 17–0 first quarter lead that eventually became 20–0, then 23–7. Auburn tried to go conservative and run the clock and got bit. The Tigers gave up a 74-yard punt return touchdown in the early 4th quarter, and all momentum was lost. LSU edged Auburn, 27–23. LSU went on to finish 9–3, 6–2 in the SEC. It will play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day against Notre Dame.
Auburn then traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Tigers toyed around with the Razorbacks in a bit of a hangover first half against Arkansas. Kamryn Pettway had his best game of the season as Auburn broke the game open in the second half, winning 52–20. Arkansas had a tough year, finishing 4–8, 1–7 in the SEC.
After a bye week, Auburn traveled to College Station, Texas to play Texas A&M. Auburn trailed the Aggies for a good chunk of the first half but dramatically hit a long touchdown pass and then blocked a punt for another score to take a 21–13 halftime lead. From there, Auburn pulled away, winning 42–27. Texas A&M finished the season 7–5, 4–4 in the SEC. Texas A&M heads to the Belk Bowl for a Friday, December 29 noon kickoff against Wake Forest.
Hosting number 1 ranked Georgia, Auburn trailed for much of the first half before storming to a 16–7 halftime lead. Auburn dominated the second half and won going away, 40–17. Suddenly, Auburn folks were talking titles! Georgia finished the regular season 11–1, 7–1 in the SEC and was the Eastern Division Champion. Auburn would see these guys again.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, Auburn hosted Louisiana Monroe. Expecting an easy win, Auburn instead found itself in a fight with ULM, and only a late first half touchdown bomb gave Auburn a 14–7 lead at the half. Auburn put the game away in the 2nd half with a couple of big plays by Kam Martin and a pick six by Nick Ruffin. Auburn won it, 42–14. Auburn started a little swoon for Louisiana Monroe as it lost its last 3 games to finish 4–8, 4–4 in the Sun Belt Conference.
The Iron Bowl rolled around with Auburn hosting Alabama. A tight game was played. Auburn kicked a field goal as time expired in the first half, to take a 10–7 lead to the locker room. Alabama stormed back down the field to start the second half, punching in a touchdown that looked all too easy. Auburn slammed the door from there, and the final score was 26-14 Auburn. Auburn was the SEC Western Division Champion, and Alabama finished as a co-champ. Despite not winning its division, Alabama managed to secure the 4th spot in the College Football Playoff. It will play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Night.
Auburn went to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in a rematch. With all-star back Kerryon Johnson limited, Auburn wasn’t able to move the Georgia defense and suffered a 28–7 loss. Georgia won the SEC Title and is the number-two seed in the college football playoff. In the afternoon on New Year’s Day, Georgia will play Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl .
Auburn finished the season at 10–3 and will head to Atlanta with a chance to get to 11. There were tribulations at times this season, but for me, it was awfully awesome knocking off number one Georgia and then top-ranked Alabama in the span of two weeks.