It’s still early in the 2014 college football season and some of the top teams have played easy games so far, but a common theme emerging is that the teams I think are seriously in the hunt for a spot in the four-team playoff berth have the ability to score a large number of points and do it in a hurry.
Teams like Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Auburn feature dynamic offensive skill people with the potential to overwhelm opponents who aren’t prepared to match up with that type of firepower. I think the team that emerges as the national champion will be the one that develops into the best at stopping high-powered offenses.
Looking at Auburn I think the 2014 Tigers have a chance to be strong defensively, but so far Coach Gus Malzahn’s team hasn’t faced an opponent yet that is good enough to really challenge the group. I don’t think Auburn is there yet on defense, but I do believe the unit has the pieces available to put things together and get to where it needs to be.
One advantage the Tigers have is they are playing a lot of people up front on defense, and that keeps the tackles and ends fresh and rested. That is particularly important when facing teams with up-tempo offenses.
A good example of that is what happened last week in the Top 10 matchup when Michigan State played at Oregon. The Spartans looked like they didn’t have the depth to stay fresh in the second half when Oregon pulled away for the victory. The same thing happened in week one when LSU used its superior depth to rally from behind to defeat Wisconsin.
A key for Auburn’s defense to improve is to reduce the number of mistakes it is making. I don’t think those mistakes are the result of a lack of ability. As game three approaches this would be a very good time for the Tigers to clean up things because Kansas State is an opponent that can cause problems for teams that don’t execute well.
Carrying out defensive assignments will be especially important against what the Wildcats like to do with their quarterback, Jake Waters. He isn’t a Superman running or passing the ball, but he is a tough, physical runner and has Superman’s heart. That is why Kansas State rallied from behind to win its game last Saturday at Iowa State. In the late stages of that Big 12 contest he was Kansas State’s running game.
Iowa State played man coverage on the wide receivers when Kansas State took its backs out the backfield and snapped the ball to the quarterback. Although the pass coverage was good, Waters stood back there until a hole opened up and then took off, and when he did he was running at will. I expect to see Coach Bill Snyder's Wildcats take the same approach to attacking Auburn’s defense next week.
The Tigers are off for week three, which features more good matchups than last week for Southeastern Conference teams. Here is a look at the SEC picks:
Central Florida at Missouri--This could be a close game, but I am going to take the Tigers to win at home.
UMass at Vanderbilt--With the problems the Commodores have had scoring points they could certainly lose again. Vandy defeated UMass 24-7 last year on the road so I am going to pick the Commodores to pull this one out at home on Saturday, but it won’t surprise me if they lose.
Arkansas at Texas Tech--This looks like a victory for the Red Raiders in an SEC vs. Big 12 matchup, but the Razorbacks certainly have a chance to win in Lubbock with their strong running attack.
Louisiana-LaFayette at Ole Miss--The Rebels should be able to hold off the visitors and improve to 3-0.
Mississippi State at South Alabama--The Bulldogs shouldn’t have a problem winning on the road in Mobile.
Southern Miss at Alabama--This is another easy game for Alabama vs. a struggling opponent.
Louisiana-Monroe at LSU--This should not be too tough of a test for LSU, which should improve to 3-0, although the visitors could keep it interesting for a while.
Kentucky at Florida--The Wildcats are off to a solid start and could keep this SEC East contest close for a half or so, but look for the Gators’ superior talent and depth to take control in Gainesville.
Tennessee at Oklahoma--The Vols may be improved from last year, but not enough to win vs. the Sooners, especially in Norman.
Rice at Texas A&M--This will likely be another easy win for the Aggies vs. an in-state opponent.
Georgia at South Carolina--An important game in the SEC East, Georgia can put itself in great shape in the divisional race with a victory over the Gamecocks. South Carolina got better in week two, but will have to improve a lot more to challenge the Bulldogs, who have enough firepower to win this game on the road and I think they will do it.
Season record: 20-3.