How dangerous are the next two weeks for the Auburn Tigers? Auburn's rebirth has come far more quickly than many expected, and 1st-year head coach Gus Malzahn knows how easily two road games against struggling conference opponents can turn a great season into so-so.
Malzahn and the Tigers will make the first stop in Fayetteville this Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 6 PM (ET) feature game on ESPN2 opened with Auburn -9.5, the spread quickly falling off to 8 on the college football odds by Tuesday evening. A 54.5 point total is also being offered for college football handicappers to consider.
Saturday will be the 23rd meeting between the two schools, and 22nd as SEC foes with the lone non-conference get-together in the 1984 Liberty Bowl, a 21-15 Auburn victory. The Tigers have the slight 11-10-1 edge in previous matchups, but Arkansas won and covered its second straight in the series about 13 months ago with an easy 24-7 upset in Auburn's backyard. It was the fourth win in five tries for the Hogs, and stopped a run of three 'overs.'
Auburn Chewing Up Yards, Scoring Points
Malzahn certainly has done quick work to not only get the Tigers back on track in his first season, but back to national prominence just outside the top 10 of the latest BCS Standings. The No. 11 spot on that list is the highest Auburn has been ranked since its last trip to play Arkansas (Oct. 2011) when the Tigers were 15th in the country.
Offense, long Malzahn's strong suit, has definitely been a big part of the turnaround. Just one year after Auburn ranked 118th averaging just 305 total yards per game, the Tigers' new attack is fifth in the country putting up 315 YPG on the ground alone. Throw in nearly another 200 yards through the air, and Auburn sits 13th in the nation in total offense scoring 37 PPG. Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant account for more than 1,700 yards rushing and 18 TDs combined. Most amazing is they're ripping off runs at nearly seven yards a tote.
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall completes the backfield, and he's expected to play Saturday after injuring his shoulder early in last week's 45-10 romp past Florida Atlantic. Should Marshall, currently listed as probable, not be ready, backup Jeremy Johnson will step in and the true freshmen adds more to the Auburn attack with his strong aerial game.
Bielema's Dash To Arkansas Off To Slow Start
One of Saturday's subplots is the rivalry that has quickly built between the two head coaches. Arkansas' Bret Bielema -- also in his first season at UA after seven at Wisconsin, the last three winning Big Ten titles -- ignited the feud with Malzahn this summer, and added to the war of words this week when he criticized Auburn for some shoddy film sent to the Razorbacks.
Some of Bielema's sour mood can obviously be attributed to Arkansas dragging a 5-game losing string into the match, the Razorbacks' fifth straight against a ranked opponent. They've been thoroughly beaten the past two weeks by South Carolina and Alabama who put up 52 points each while Arkansas managed to score just seven in the eight combined quarters.
It's easy to point to Arkansas' defense as the key to this game, and it's true the Hogs will have to find a way to at least slow Auburn's attack. But the offensive side of the coin is equally important, if not more so. After taking last week off, it has been three weeks since Arkansas put any points on the board; the Razorbacks have had 20 scoreless drives since their opening possession vs. South Carolina on Oct. 12, six of them ending with turnovers (including a blocked field goal) and four more of the three-&-out variety.
Mother Nature & Final Thoughts
A clear and crisp evening is store for fans at Razorback Stadium. Temps in the low-to-mid 50s at kickoff will drop into the mid-40s by game's end, and a 10-15 mph N-NW wind could play a role in kicking games. Make sure to confirm that before going to the college football betting window.
It's Senior Night in Fayetteville, their final game in this stadium before finishing the home schedule in Little Rock three weeks from now vs. Mississippi State. Nobody ever wants to send the seniors out with a loss, so Hog Nation should be lit up. But as that great philosopher Mick Jagger once said, "You can't always get what you want."
I love the line movement in this one and believe Malzahn is the one who celebrates a homecoming of sorts in the end. Auburn gets the nod as my college Football pick this time.My pick: Auburn -8 at Bet365