College Football: Auburn Rising

Do you believe in Auburn?

Do you believe that in the rugged Southeastern Conference, a team can actually go undefeated in 2006, then win the SEC title game in Atlanta, to play in the BCS championship game? Can a team vanquish LSU, Florida and Georgia in the same year, and then struggle through a possible rematch (or a date with Tennessee) for all the marbles?

Your answer to that question may have been greatly influenced by Auburn’s milquetoast performance last Thursday night in South Carolina. Favored by 13, the Tigers struggled to hold off the game Gamecocks (to coin a phrase), nearly blowing a 24-10 lead before stopping Steve Spurrier’s troops, 24-17, at the Auburn 6 with under 20 seconds to play. RB Kenny Irons was great, rushing for 117 yards and two scores, and QB Brandon Cox did the caretaker thing, not turning the ball over while completing 13-of-19 passes. But the Tigers’ pass defense was shaky, allowing South Carolina wideout Kenny McKinley to get open time and time again, to the tune of eight catches for 110 yards and a score. Auburn had been a top-20 defense against the pass, but the tight coverage it showed against LSU was nowhere to be found in Columbia last week.

So this weekend Auburn has what’s supposed to be a relative breather: a home game against the extremely young Arkansas Razorbacks. Irons is a Heisman candidate, and Arkansas is ranked right around 100th in Division I-A in stopping the run. The Razorback run game is pretty strong itself — sophomore Darren McFadden has two 100+ yard rushing games so far this year and will play on Sundays someday — and certainly Houston Nutt will try and keep the ball away from Irons & Co. for as long as possible. Do Cox and his receivers, primarily big junior Courtney Taylor and sophomore Rodgeriqus Smith, have enough firepower to cover a big spread in a conference game?

In a word: yes. Auburn has covered three consecutive seasons against the Razorbacks, and has the matchups all in its favor. Irons will not take his foot off the accelerator if he wants to  ufabet สเต็ป2 keep pace with Ohio State’s Troy Smith for the Heisman. As I mentioned, Arkansas’ rush defense has struggled against the likes of Alabama and Vanderbilt; Auburn’s ground attack is in a completely different stratosphere. And the Hogs want to run like crazy, too (they’ve got a 5.6 yards-per-carry average), but Auburn is only allowing 2.4 yards per carry, which puts them in the top 20 nationally. There’s simply no comparison between these defenses in terms of size and speed.

The trends mostly favor the Tigers as well. Auburn is 11-4 against the spread in its last 15 overall. It’s also 7-2 ATS in its last nine home games, 23-9-1 ATS in its last 33 conference games, and 5-1 ATS in its last six games in which it was favored by 10.5 or more points. In other words: when this team is favored to win big, it wins big. Arkansas is 0-4 ATS in its last four games (all this year), and 2-7 ATS in weeks following a straight-up win. True, the Hogs are also 3-0 ATS in their last few games where they’ve been a 10.5-point underdog or worse, so they historically know how to keep would-be blowouts close. But my issue is that the Arkansas teams who did that have since graduated; this year’s team, led by a freshman QB named Mitch Mustain, is extremely green, and it showed when the team got decimated by USC (at home), 50-14 as a 7.5-point underdog. For sure, Auburn doesn’t throw like SC does, but I don’t think it matters, because the Razorbacks won’t be able to stop Irons. I’m taking Auburn (-15.5) hosting Arkansas, and hoping that the Tigers won’t be looking ahead to their huge matchup with Florida next week.

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