The early rankings are probably more important to teams like Notre Dame and Florida State who have not played challenging schedules. Because there are so many big games left to be played in the SEC and so many potential scenarios, it is going to be fun to watch that develop in November.
If any SEC team in the group of Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama or Georgia wins the rest of its games, look for it to make the playoff. Mississippi State is the only unbeaten team in the SEC, but I don’t expect the Bulldogs to make it through the regular season without a loss.
Each of those five SEC teams will have to play very well to win out, but nobody has a tougher challenge than Gus Malzahn’s Tigers. With road games remaining at Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, I don’t see Auburn winning all of those games. It’s not because the Tigers aren’t capable of beating any of those teams because they certainly are, but winning three times, on the road, vs. Top 10 teams in one month is a lot to ask. The chances of it happening look slim.
Auburn heads to Ole Miss this week with just one loss after one of the most unusual games I have ever seen as the Tigers held on for a 42-35 victory over South Carolina.
I knew before they kicked off that Steve Spurrier would have as good a game plan as he is capable of putting together, and he had effective one. Because the coach had three weeks to get ready to play the Tigers with an open date and an easy game vs. Furman before going into the Auburn game week, South Carolina had plenty of time to put in an aggressive game plan and rehearse it thoroughly. At the same time the Gamecocks had a chance to get rested and get healthier.
What you couldn’t anticipate going into the game was that Spurrier had put together a four-down game plan. There is no doubt in my mind that he came into Auburn planning to go for it on fourth downs and that changes up any tendency that he might have had in calling first down plays, second and long plays or third down plays.
In a more normal situation the Auburn defense would have gotten off the field five more times after making third down stops. Auburn would have likely won the game by a comfortable margin if Spurrier hadn’t gambled and won by converting five of the six fourth down plays.
You have to give the Gamecocks credit for executing on the fourth downs and the Tigers deserve some blame, too, because there were several of those plays that succeeded because of assignment errors, something the Tigers must correct this week before heading over to Ole Miss for the biggest game in the SEC this week.
Auburn’s chances of winning in Oxford will increase significantly if the offense plays with the tempo and efficiency it displayed vs. South Carolina. Nick Marshall played well, which is nothing new. The difference was that the others around him stepped up and blocked better, didn’t drop passes and generally did everything better. It looked more like the offensive group we saw in the second half of the 2013 season, which is a very good thing for the Tigers.
Looking at this week’s SEC games:
Louisiana Monroe at Texas A&M--This will be a tune-up victory for the Aggies before they visit Auburn the following week.
Georgia vs. Florida--The Bulldogs shouldn’t have much of a problem winning this rivalry contest in Jacksonville.
Old Dominion at Vanderbilt--The Commodores are having a difficult time beating anyone, but Vanderbilt should be able to handle this assignment.
Arkansas at Mississippi State--The Razorbacks probably won’t match up well vs. this Mississippi State team that should be too strong to handle in Starkville.
Tennessee at South Carolina--Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC game this season, but this could be the week the Vols pull off an upset and I think it will happen.
Auburn at Ole Miss--This is a game of national significance and Ole Miss will provide an indication of how much the Tigers have improved since their last road trip. It’s tough to beat a Top 10 team on the road, but it helps to have a guy like Marshall playing quarterback for your team.
I really think Auburn’s chances of winning will boil down to two things. The Tigers need to control the football and finish possessions with points, which won’t be easy to do against a defense that is really good--maybe as good as anybody in the country. The other major factor is will the defense be able to put pressure on Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace? That certainly has not been the Tigers’ strong suit this year.
The Tigers need to look at this as a terrific opportunity to take on a major challenge, have fun and find a way to win a big road SEC game, something I think they will be able to do.
Season Record: 58-17
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