Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Auburn Realist: Waaaay to Early Predictions for 2014 Part 2

The Auburn Realist

You can find links to all of my Auburn Realist Blog posts here.
The Auburn Realist: Overview

In case you missed our Waaaayyy Too Early Predictions for the first 1/3 of the season, take some time to go read it. Then make a comment or two!

Sept. 13 ** Open Date **
Sept. 20 at Kansas State Manhattan, KS
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State Starkville, MS
Oct. 18 ** Open Date **
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss Oxford, MS
Nov. 15 at Georgia Athens, GA
Nov. 29 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 

WE have the following predictions for the first few games:
Aug. 30 ARKANSAS AUBURN Auburn 35-17
Sept. 6 SAN JOSE STATE AUBURN Auburn 52-3
Sept. 20 at Kansas State Manhattan, KS Auburn 38-17
Sept. 27 LOUISIANA TECH AUBURN Auburn 49-3

Yes, I know that is a lot of points. I fully suspect Auburn to be in the top 5 scoring offenses in the country by the first of October. But, let's be real. The front 1/3rd of the season isn't exactly a difficult challenge. Arkansas and Kansas State are the only two threats of the first 4 games. While I expect Arkansas to be much improved, I also fully expect Bielema to bring out the Gus Bus' A-Game. K-State is a formidable opponent that has featured good offenses in some years and good defenses in others, but hasn't managed to put them both together. I can't see them accomplishing this, which they would desperately need to hang with the Tigers. 

Moving on. Let's look at the next 5 games on the schedule. 

By all rights, LSU has owned Auburn in the last decade. 3 straight dating to 2010. 3 straight after that dating back to 2006. In the last decade, Auburn has won 3 games in 10. Not very good. They haven't won two straight since 1999-2000. The stretch from 2000-2007, however, featured the most evenly distributed series which went to the Home team. Additionally, the home team has won 8 of 10, thought LSU has won the two games Away. All in all, LSU and Les Miles has owned Auburn for the last 10 years. 

LSU continues to bring in top notch players out of high school. They are a perennial top 5 recruiting powerhouse. Though the defense continues to be a stud, overall, the offenses have not been able to play to their full potential. Most notable, the LSU run game has been phenomenal at times, churning out mad yards using 4 and 5 different backs, but not able to buckle down in the SEC West showdowns. Personally, I blame the perceived necessity to play 4-5 5 Star running backs, none of which can seem to get into a grove for those crucial showdown games. The tough games have fallen on the arm of the LSU quarterbacks, who have largely missed the mark. Mettenburger, for example, has entered each of his two seasons at LSU with a lot of expectations. Early in the season, he has excelled, but as the pressure built down the stretch, he has wilted. Though it should be noted that teams like South Carolina have proven too much up front for the LSU offensive line. 

LSU enters 2014 rebuilding on offense. They will be missing several of the talented running backs, including Copeland, their lead blocking fullback. Additionally, they have virtually no one in the receiver corp with real experience. Most importantly, LSU finds itself without a returning starter at QB. Mettenburger may not have won the Heisman and became fodder for memes and bloggers with his late season injuries and failures under pressure, but he was the best QB LSU has fielded in some time. 

Auburn stands poised to match strength on strength with LSU, for the first time in many years. In fact, it will be the first time since 2010 that the talent level and coaching at Auburn will be on par with LSU.  The LSU defense will have to carry the Tigers, especially early in the season while the Auburn offense will undoubtedly be out for revenge after their 1st Quarter meltdown in Red Stick. The real question will surround the Auburn defense who will see their first real test against a quality offense which will be capable of stretching the field. I think Auburn will initially struggle early against the LSU run game, simply because LSU will feature a very good offensive line. In the second half, they will buckle down up front, forcing LSU to throw the ball in a very hostile environment. 

In a close game, LSU may very well have a slight edge against an Auburn special teams unit which will probably be under real pressure for the first time in their career. This rivalry, especially when the preceding year featured a national contender, have been settled by special teams play. I think of the 2004 extra points, the 2005 missed field goals, for example. I also look at punting as a possible game breaker. Although LSU has outscored Auburn drastically in the last few years, previous games have been slobber knockers in which punting really mattered.

Just like last year, the LSU game will be the game in which an Auburn RB cements himself as a starter. Who will it be? As you may remember, I fully expected CAP to become a major force in the SEC last year, yet Mason played out of his mind. I find myself saying the same thing year. It's his job to lose. It's no secret that Auburn has a ton of talent in that position. He can separate himself against a quality SEC foe. 

The star of the show will surely be Marshall, who already had this game circled in his locker. His INTs and a fumbled snap on the first 3rd down of the game cost the Tigers last year. Though LSU is talent laden again, I don't think their defensive backfield will be on par with years past. Watch out for Marshall and his receivers to break the game open after half time with a crisp passing game. 

The deciding factor for me will the the Auburn home crowd. I was at the 2004 and 2010 LSU games and they were the loudest I have ever been to. The crowd can win the game for Auburn if Auburn can keep the crowd in it. The worst thing that can happen is a first quarter falter, as we saw last year.

27-17 Auburn

Oct. 11 at Mississippi State Starkville, MS

There are a lot of people taking a hard look at the Bulldogs this season, and for good reason. Prescott provided some real excitement for the MSU faithful last year. They haven't lost a lot of players. Mullen must win this year. I plan on being in Starkville for this one because I fully suspect this game to be an incredible game. Auburn will surely have some bumps and bruises after playing LSU and find themselves in a very different situation as in years past. MSU and Auburn have both opened up SEC play against each other for a decade. It has led to some sloppy play at times, but some of the best finishes. This game is always one of the most physical games played on either schedule and I don't believe this year will be any different. The most important thing I see is that both teams will have played a common LSU foe and will be able to gameplan for each other. While Auburn will be coming off a tough and draining win at home, I see MSU coming off a win against the Aggies that will have the team soaring. 

I expect the game to be tied, or VERY close at half based upon emotions alone. The crowd (and cowbells) will have Auburn on their heels a bit. Additionally, playing an extremely big and mobile QB in Prescott will take the very talented and powerful Auburn D-Line by slight surprise in the first half. That will change in the second half and the D-line will adjust to his speed. Expect 3 sacks in the second half. Auburn will pound the ball and open up play action passing for big vertical gains. MSU scores late to make it a 1-score game. 

Auburn 24-17

As much as I respect Spurrier and what he has accomplished in Columbia, he finds himself in a very tough spot. Dylan Thompson has been an off and on starter, but hasn't been consistent. Mike Davis was fantastic in 2013 while playing along side the gritty, and now departed, Connor Shaw. Behind the scenes, Ellington is going to the NFL, leaving USC with only Davis as their returning weapon. They do have two capable WRs returning, however, who could have breakout years. 

But, the defense finds itself fairly empty and outmatched against the Auburn offense. 

But, they are playing in Auburn. It will be a fun game to watch, but I don't think it will be very close. 

Auburn 38-13

Nov. 1 at Ole Miss Oxford, MS

This will be a game to be watched. I imagine it will be a prime time game as well. I fully expect Ole Miss to host Auburn ranked in the top 15 and sporting a 7-1 record, pulling off an upset of either LSU or Bama.  Their schedule is extremely favorable for the Rebs to make a hard push at becoming an elite team in 2014. They return a QB who could become great, if he can keep his mouth shut, and a couple of dangerous play makers to go along side him. The defense has gotten better and better, featuring the nations top recruit for 2012. They have recruited out of their minds in the last few years. Last year started off with so much fanfare and expectations only to see them fall flat down the stretch. 

It will be very interesting to see if Treadwell moves from the slot to the outside this year. He gave teams a lot of problems last year, though he had one of the nations best receivers playing next to him to pull attention. 

They do lose Scott, who I felt was their best run threat for much of the last few years. But, after looking at the stats, he didn't lead any categories. instead, Walton and Mathers did, each of them underclassman. But, they had only 1,000  yards and 9 TDs between them. But, expect the read option to be in full force with Wallace running the show, who ran for 350 yards and 6 TDs of his own. He also shared QB carries with the departed Brunettii, who added 300 more yards and 4 TDs. I fully expect Wallace to absorb those carries. 

Unfortunately for the Rebs, the Auburn defensive line will already have been tested with the read option all year with their own team as well as against quality teams such as K-State and MSU. While Wallace is a fantastic player, very physically gifted, so is Carl Lawson, Montravious Adams, and Co. Expect Wallace to do as Wallace has done....become frustrated and melt down in the 4th quarter. On the other hand, who will match up against Treadwell? Auburn hasn't fielded a shutdown corner in several years. They will need it against this guy. 

On the other side of the ball, expect NKemdiche to establish himself on the strong side of the Auburn offense and become a force of his own. I expect him to force the ball to the inside. Last year he was a step off from making a ton of plays on the perimeter against the zone read. This year I imagine he will be a step faster. Auburn will have to consider beating up the Rebs inside and/or throwing the ball. Luckily, they will be up to the task.

This game will feature a lot of pace, a lot of trick plays, and possibly a lot of turnovers and sacks. It will be entertaining, but Auburn will come away with the win.

Auburn 30-21