In two days, we will find out who will win between Auburn and Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs beat Mississippi State to open 2008 after hearing a lot of talk about SEC speed, better talent, better athletes, etc. Mississippi State was coming off of a strong season and was surprised by the toughness and the conditioning of the Tech Bulldogs.
Auburn will be a tougher game for a few reasons. Auburn has recruited better than Mississippi State in recent years and will have more talent. The Tigers are looking to erase memories of last season after fading down the stretch. Finally, the game is in Auburn, AL and it's tough to win on the road in front of 80,000 fans or 18,000 fans. 80,000 fans will make it even tougher.
When we compare the offenses, you see the two opponents are pretty similar. Ross Jenkins and Chris Todd both started about half of their team's games last year and had some success. Jenkins is a pretty mobile guy. Todd can make plays when things start to break down. While Todd had 5 touchdowns against 6 interceptions, Jenkins was more effecient with 7 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Ben Tate had a strong sophomore season and started pretty well last year. Tate's season faded in the last few games of the year as did his team's. Daniel Porter took over the starting job early from incumbent Patrick Jackson and raced to a really big year. Both guys will have youngsters behind them and they will both be running behind veteran offensive lines.
Both sets of receivers are inexperienced. Cruz Williams, a big recruit for the Bulldogs, and DeAngelo Benton, a national recruit from North Louisiana for Auburn, could both be game changers for their team. Montez Billings is out for the Tigers.
Mario Fannin is the starting H-back for Auburn. Philip Livas is listed at wide receiver, but does a little of everything for Louisiana Tech. These are the guys that could really affect the outcome of the game in a split second.
Tommy Trott and Dennis Morris are veteran tight ends who have not had the big years that fans of both schools expected. Trott should have a big role in Auburn's new offense.
There is not a huge advantage for either team at any position on offense. Both teams will look to true freshmen off the bench at running back and Onterio McCalebb will be the X-factor.
On Defense, Auburn brings back a big defensive line led by Antonio Coleman. With Antoine Carter out at defensive end, Auburn will be a little thin on the bench. Freshmen Nosa Equa and 215 pound Dee Ford are both on the 2nd unit.
D'Anthony Smith anchors a defensive front for Louisiana Tech that a year ago was young and untested. While they have a year under their belts going into Auburn, the defensive ends will have to get extra production. Kwame Jordan had success against Mississippi State before spending the rest of the year battling injuries. The 6'4 245 end could have success against first time starter Andrew McCain for Auburn.
Auburn has talented starters at linebacker. Eltorro Freeman is banged up, but he wil play. Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes are returning starters. All three starters are in the 230 pound range. Auburn has has several injuries at linebacker and like the defensive end position, will have to look at freshmen for depth.
The Tigers will look to a true freshman to start at safety. Daren Bates takes over for Mike McNeil, who is not ready to go. Auburn has veterans in the backfield and mostly sophomores on the 2nd unit. Walter McFadden and Zac Ethridge provide experience in the secondary.
Louisiana Tech brings back six linebackers with experience and three veteran safeties. Deon Young, a two year starter at safety, will play some corner to help get Tank Calais on the field more. Quinn Giles, Chad Boyd, and Javantay Crowe are all true freshmen who could play some in the secondary for Tech. The Bulldogs will look to Terry Carter at the other corner spot.
Louisiana Tech has NFL prospects Smith and Antonio Baker on the defense and a lot of experience coming back. While Auburn has more talent in the starting unit, the injury bug has taken away some of their depth. Coleman will be a load for Tech to deal with and that is an understatement. There is not one position on defense where either team hasd a clear advantage.
Usually when you talk about SEC teams against teams that are not from the BCS, you talk about superior depth and bigger, stronger athletes. Tech was more physical and in much better condition than Mississippi State last year. Auburn has not been as physical in practice as one could expect because of the injuries. The Tigers will not be in better shape than Tech and they won't be able play extra guys like they would in normal years because the extra guys are in street clothes.
Wes Byrum was inconsistent for Auburn last year. Tech will have a freshmen punter and kicker. McCalebb is a home run threat on offense and has the same ability as a kick returner. Phillip Livas is dangerous in the return game for Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech is strong in the run game and against the run. They stuffed Anthony Dixon last year after all the talk of the superior athletes at State would run over the smaller of the two Bulldgos. Auburn would typically dominate the run game against a non-BCS team and because of that, they would dominate the game. There is just not evidence that they can dominate Louisiana Tech. Chris Todd has the ability to make big plays with his arm and Auburn will move the ball.
This game will come down to the big play and of course turnovers. Which team can break that big play for a touchdown? Who will come up with a costly turnover? Louisiana Tech won a lot of close games last year and that experience should gve them the slight edge. Auburn is looking at 5 or 6 wins this year and they will improve as the season progresses. If this game is played late in the year, Auburn's youngsters would have the experience they lack at this point and the outcome might be different.
There are too many unknowns for Auburn. A 5-7 team with a 5-19 new coach and a new offense are not the ingredients for a sure win. If the Tigers get going early, the crowd could make an impact. On the other side, if Tech can get an early lead and take the crowd out of it, Auburn might have to abandon their run game, which is a strength.
Louisiana Tech 27