The Dye-Gest: Physical Test for the Tigers

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about Auburn's opener and other games in week one of SEC play.

It’s almost here. We have been looking forward to this week since January when Auburn finished last season out at Pasadena so close to winning another national championship. Everybody across the country who loves college football has got to be excited this week. The game has gotten so big everywhere, but particularly here in the Southeast.

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There have been lots of predictions made and a lot of hype for players and teams, but now we are about to find out who is really good, something that isn’t always easy to predict. Every year there are darkhorse teams that end up having great seasons. Last year Auburn certainly fit that description and there is another team in the SEC that could fall into that same category this season.

Florida’s coach, Will Muschamp, said that he has got the best offensive staff he has had since he’s been in Gainesville. He has a new offensive coordinator, a senior quarterback returning to good health and a team that has a chance to be pretty good on defense. Combine that with all of the abuse the Gators took last year from fans during a losing season and you should have a hungry football team playing at Florida Field this year.

Will Muschamp didn't have much to be happy about last season.

Coach Muschamp’s bunch could develop into a team that opponents don’t want to see on their schedule if they can fix most of the problems that plagued the Gators during an embarrassing 2013 season.

On Saturday defending SEC champion Auburn will open its season with a home game vs. Arkansas. I don’t know how good of a team the Razorbacks have this year, but I do know they are going to run the football and they are going to be a physical bunch. Auburn’s coaches, particularly on the defensive side of the football, need to get a good read on how their players are going to deal with a physical opponent, and this is an opportunity to find out.

I am interested to see the Tigers play against a hard-nosed, physical offense because there are plenty of them that will be showing up on the schedule and they will a part of teams that will probably have more ability and a better defense than the one Arkansas will bring to Auburn on Saturday.

I think the Tigers are going to be better defensively this year than last season, but I want to see them play to confirm that my feelings on that subject. A better defense would be a very good thing for Coach Gus Malzahn’s team with opponents like LSU, Kansas State, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama on the schedule. Those are teams that could be difficult to score a lot of points against. Even if the Tigers are really good on offense again this year, you can’t always count on your offense to win games.

SEC play starts early this week with three games on Thursday night and wraps up on Sunday. Here are the week one predictions:

Texas A&M at South Carolina--I like the Gamecocks to take this one playing at home against a Texas A&M team that must replace Johnny Manziel and a lot of other talented players. I think Coach Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks have won 18 straight against visiting teams and there is no reason to expect the streak to end this week.

Boise State vs. Ole Miss at Atlanta--I am sure the Broncos have a good team and will give the Rebels a test on Thursday night, but it is a different thing being good at Boise State and good at Ole Miss. I think this year Ole Miss has a good SEC football team and will win this matchup at the Georgia Dome. However, if the Rebels don’t play well they could get themselves into trouble, but I don’t expect that to happen.

Temple at Vanderbilt--The Commodores are going through a transition season adjusting to their new coaching staff. They will likely struggle at times this year, but Vandy shouldn’t be seriously threatened by this opponent.

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky--Even Kentucky, one of the SEC’s weaker teams, won’t have a problem winning against this opponent.

West Virginia at Alabama--With a strong running attack and talent on defense, Alabama should win this game no matter who lines up at quarterback.

South Dakota State at Missouri--The defending SEC East champs are normally well coached and that shouldn’t change, but they have rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball. However, that shouldn’t prevent Gary Pinkel’s Tigers from getting off to a 1-0 start.

Clemson at Georgia--I like Bulldogs’ potential to be a really good offensive team and make a run at the SEC East title. Even if Georgia is the same on defense as it was last year I think the Bulldogs will be able to win this game at home vs. a challenging opponent.

Idaho at Florida--This is nothing more than a tune-up game for the Gators.

Southern Miss at Mississippi State--The Golden Eagles have struggled in recent years so this should be a relatively easy opener for the home team.

Wisconsin vs. LSU at Houston--This is going to be interesting. LSU is playing a lot of young people and Wisconsin is one of the favorites in the Big 10. Both teams like to be physical and run the football. LSU has a lot of unknowns, including the quarterback situation, but I will pick the SEC team because Coach Les Miles should have more speed and talent to put on the field.

Utah State at Tennessee--I will take Tennessee but only because this game is being playing in Knoxville. The Vols are really an unknown quantity because when you lose so much up front on offense and defense that is a major, major rebuilding job. I think it might take the Vols a while to figure how good their untested players are because a lot of times you can have a false impression of somebody and then they get in the game and they just don’t perform like you think they should.

Arkansas at Auburn--I expect both teams to come into the game highly motivated for this early SEC West matchup. Arkansas is going to try very hard to put the bad memories behind from a disappointing season while the Tigers are going to be tested often by teams that want to take down the defending champ. I think the Arkansas power running game will provide a real test for the Auburn defense, but I like the Tigers’ chances of winning because they have the more complete team.

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