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Is the SEC West Really College Football’s Stongest Division? 2

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers barely escaped an upset bid by Jacksonville State.

Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers barely escaped an upset bid by Jacksonville State.

The SEC West is college football’s showcase division and it’s in the Saturday spotlight with two big games for us to watch. It starts in mid-afternoon with Auburn-LSU (3:30 PM ET, CBS) and then concludes with Ole Miss-Alabama in prime time (9:15 PM ET, ESPN). Here are some early thoughts about these four teams from a handicapping perspective, pertaining to both Saturday specifically and the long-term…

AUBURN: The scare the Tigers got against Jacksonville State on Saturday, needing overtime to pull out a 27-20 win as (-39) favorite has cost Auburn a lot of stock nationally. In fact, the Tigers have been overpriced lately anyway. What do I mean by lately? Like ever since they finished off the 2013 national championship game, a cover against Florida State.

Last season, Auburn was priced like a national championship contender and couldn’t meet that bar. The Tigers were 4-8 against the number and now they’ve started 0-2 ATS this season, even while winning both games outright.

I’m willing to give Gus Malzahn’s team a pass for the Jacksonville State near-disaster. It was right in between the season opener against Louisville in the Georgia Dome and the LSU game on Saturday, the proverbial “sandwich” spot. My concerns lie with what happened in the Louisville game itself.

Auburn jumped out to a 24-0 lead and then had to hold off a late Cardinal charge to hold on 31-24. Louisville is an extremely young team and the Tigers failed to cover the (-10) line. They had serious problems defending Louisville’s versatile quarterback Lamar Jackson, who ran for 106 yards. Auburn’s own quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, threw three interceptions.

That’s not a formula for winning games against SEC opponents that have quarterbacks who can move. However, before turning this into a pile-on-Auburn segment, we also have to point out the positives. Peyton Barber is running the football effectively, going for 115 yards in the Louisville game and again getting 100-plus as one of the few bright spots against Jacksonville State.

Auburn also played good pass defense against Louisville. Jackson was not able to get anything going in the air. That might not project out to very much against some SEC West opponents, but is relevant against LSU, which has significant problems throwing the ball that we’re about to touch on. Read the rest of this entry →

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