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PECK’S PICKS BOWL EXTRAVAGANZA (PART TWO)

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Bowl season is in full swing. The football has been good(?), the stadiums have been practically empty, and the games have been meaningless.

If you’d rather watch college football than do literally anything else, these games are for you.

Let’s dive back in!

Florida State (-15) vs Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl: Florida State’s season officially comes to an end, months after it unofficially came to an end in the season opener against Alabama. Southern Miss gets to play David against FSU’s Goliath, except Goliath in this case has already lost six mostly one-sided fights. Speaking of which, did Goliath know that weapons were allowed? PECK’S PICK: FSU -15

Iowa (-3) vs Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College won five of its last six, including a throttling of the aforementioned Seminoles, while Iowa blew out Ohio State and very nearly beat both Penn State and Michigan State. This game seems like a toss-up and that’s reflected in the line, but I like the way the Eagles run the ball. PECK’S PICK: BOSTON COLLEGE +3
Arizona (-3) vs Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl: When Rich Rodriguez has a quarterback who can run his offense effectively, he can make beautiful music. Khalil Tate’s numbers were unreal this season, and he’s reason enough to watch a game. PECK’S PICK: ARIZONA -3

Missouri (-1.5) vs Texas in the Texas Bowl: Missouri looked lifeless after the first month of the season, but pulled itself off the canvas and found a way to rack up eye-popping statistics as it tore through most of the SEC East down the stretch. Both teams will struggle on defense, and it should come down to whoever has the ball last. PECK’S PICK: MISSOURI -1.5

Navy (-1) vs Virginia in the Military Bowl: Navy is playing on its home field and Virginia isn’t too far away, so this game might actually have people in attendance. Navy’s tricky offense should be able to outscore Virginia, although UVA’s quarterback (the ridiculously named Kurt Benkert) could get hot and lead the Cavaliers to victory. PECK’S PICK: NAVY -1

Oklahoma State (-5) vs Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl: OSU features one of the best offenses in college football, but Virginia Tech’s defense is as salty as ever and the Hokies can score plenty of points, too. I’m picking VT, because I can’t stand Mike Gundy, a coach who routinely gets killed by his archrival every year and draws attention to himself by scolding reporters and sporting a silly haircut. PECK’S PICK: VT -5

TCU (-3) vs Stanford in the Alamo Bowl: Two perennially tough teams led by exemplary coaches will collide in San Antonio. TCU is very talented, but I don’t trust quarterback Kenny Hill against a disciplined defense (too many of his passes miss their mark by a wide margin) and it will be very difficult for TCU to stop hard-charging Stanford running back Bryce Love. PECK’S PICK STANFORD +3
Michigan State (-1.5) vs Washington State in the Holiday Bowl: When I’m torn, I tend to pick the team with the superior quarterback, and Luke Falk has been phenomenal throughout his career for the Huskies. PECK’S PICK: WASHINGTON STATE +1.5

Wake Forest (-3) vs Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl: A&M will be coached by substitute teacher Jeff Banks, and it’s understandable that its players will lack motivation before Jimbo Fisher’s regime officially begins. Wake Forest has been one of the surprises of the ACC, and could contend for the conference before Dave Clawson’s work is finished. PECK’S PICK: WAKE FOREST -3

NC State (-6.5) vs Arizona State in the Sun Bowl: Fired ASU coach Todd Graham will coach his team one final time in bowl season’s most awkward situation. NC State appears to be better, but maybe Graham’s presence will provide ample motivation for his team. PECK’S PICK: ARIZONA STATE +6.5

Northwestern (-7.5) vs Kentucky in the Music City Bowl: Northwestern won nine games??? PECK’S PICK: NORTHWESTERN -7.5

Utah State (-4) vs New Mexico State in the Arizona Bowl: Next! PECK’S PICK: UTAH STATE -4

Ohio State (-6) vs USC in the Cotton Bowl: Now THIS is a bowl game. A pair of talented teams who very narrowly missed out on the College Football Playoff collide. USC quarterback Sam Darnold has the ability to take a game over, but Ohio State’s superior ability on both sides of the ball should be enough to give them a victory in a close, high-scoring game. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -6

Louisville (-6) vs Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl: If State had injured quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, this game would feature the best quarterback duel of any game on the board. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald injured his leg in the Ole Miss game (and then watched his coach head off to Gainesville). Lamar Jackson remains a sensation, so MSU will have to play its best game of the season to win without Fitzgerald. PECK’S PICK: LOUISVILLE -6

Memphis (-3.5) vs Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl: Iowa State stunned the Big 12 with victories over Oklahoma and TCU, but lost three of its last four and now faces an explosive Memphis offense playing on its home field. PECK’S PICK: MEMPHIS -3.5

Penn State (-4) vs Washington in the Fiesta Bowl: One of the best matchups on the board, these will be two trendy preseason picks for next season’s College Football Playoff. Washington features a balanced offensive attack and an experienced quarterback in Jake Browning, but Penn State’s Saquon Barkley was one of the nation’s best running backs and should be able to shoulder the load and carry his team to victory. PECK’S PICK: PENN STATE -4

Wisconsin (-6) vs Miami in the Orange Bowl: This is another fantastic matchup, as two more teams that narrowly missed the College Football Playoff will square off. If Miami’s opportunistic defense can force Wisconsin into uncharacteristic mistakes, the Hurricanes could find a way to give its hometown fans a victory, but I’ve got too many questions about their offense to pick them. PECK’S PICK: WISCONSIN -6

Michigan (-8) vs South Carolina in the Outback Bowl: These are two more teams who will be trendy picks in 2018, as Jake Bentley looks to take the next step and become the SEC’s top quarterback while Michigan’s roster looks loaded. I still don’t trust Michigan’s offense, so look for South Carolina to pull off the upset in a low-scoring affair. PECK’S PICK: S. CAROLINA +8

LSU (-3) vs Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl: The wheels came off Notre Dame’s offense in the final month of the season, and an aggressive LSU defense is a bad matchup for them. There are reasons to believe LSU will be better next year than they were this year, and a solid performance against the Irish will continue their positive momentum. PECK’S PICK: LSU -3

Georgia (-2) vs Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl: If Georgia’s defense keeps Oklahoma bottled up, the Bulldogs could find themselves playing for the national championship in front of a partisan crowd in Atlanta. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done because the Sooners can score points in bunches. The game will fall on the shoulders of OU quarterback Baker Mayfield, and I think he’ll make too many mistakes. PECK’S PICK: GEORGIA -2

Alabama (-3) vs Clemson in the Sugar Bowl: I swore off picking against Clemson earlier this season, but Nick Saban’s teams are lethal when he’s allowed extra time to prepare for an opponent. Alabama’s offensive line struggled in November and faces its toughest test of the season against a Clemson front seven loaded with future NFL players looking to chase down Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. PECK’S PICK: CLEMSON +3

Auburn (-9.5) vs UCF in the Peach Bowl: This game features two wildly entertaining offenses. UCF has more to gain, as they look to finish an undefeated season; Auburn wants to build momentum for next year and gain a rare eleventh victory in a single season. AU has a big edge on defense, so they should be able to handle UCF if they play as well as they did throughout most of the season. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN -9.5

Come back next week for a recap of the Auburn/UCF game and a National Championship prediction! Enjoy the games!

PECK’S PICKS BOWL EXTRAVAGANZA (PART ONE)

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Bowl season is here, and all 288 games will be broadcast right here on ESPN 106.7.

Unless you’re a total degenerate, you probably don’t know very much about most of the teams that will be in action.

Fear not. Partially because I love bowl season, and mostly because I have no desire to do a postmortem of the 2017 SEC Championship (in fact, let’s never speak of that game ever again), this week’s edition of BTG is going to be all about the bowls.

Let’s dive right in.

Troy (-7) vs. North Texas in the NEW ORLEANS BOWL: Troy brought back every single player who recorded a yard of offense from last season and the team thrived, finishing 10-2 and winning the Sun Belt. North Texas struggled to slow down FAU last week and they’ll struggle to slow down Troy. PECK’S PICK: TROY -7

Western Kentucky (-6) vs. Georgia State in the CURE BOWL: The Hilltoppers stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their last five games of the season by double-digits, but they’ve got a good quarterback and a ridiculous-looking mascot. PECK’S PICK: WKU -6

Oregon (-7.5) vs Boise State in the LAS VEGAS BOWL: This is one of the most compelling matchups on the slate. Boise won eight of its last nine games, but Oregon’s gigantic quarterback Justin Herbert is hard to stop. Boise’s defense should keep the game close. PECK’S PICK: BOISE +7.5

Colorado State (-5.5) vs Marshall in the NEW MEXICO BOWL: Nothing rewards kids after a grueling season like a mid-December trip to tropical Albuquerque. State’s got a pretty good offense, I know nothing about Marshall, let’s move on. PECK’S PICK: CSU -5.5

Arkansas State (-3.5) vs MTSU in the CAMELIA BOWL: MTSU’s offense heated up towards the end of the season, but Arkansas State has a better situation at quarterback and should find a way to win. PECK’S PICK: ARKANSAS STATE -3.5

Florida Atlantic (-22) vs Akron in the BOCA RATON BOWL: Look for Lane Kiffin to cap off a spectacular first season as the head coach of the Owls with a resounding victory in the team’s hometown. PECK’S PICK: FAU -22

SMU (-5) vs Louisiana Tech in the FRISCO BOWL: Chad Morris just took the Arkansas job, but the components of his high-powered offense will be in place. Louisiana Tech, led by Skip Holtz, should be up to the challenge. PECK’S PICK: LT +5

Temple (-7) vs FIU in the GASPARILLA BOWL: I’m not sure about either school, so I’m taking the team from Florida. PECK’S PICK:  FIU +7

Ohio (-7.5) vs UAB in the BAHAMAS BOWL: Not a bad deal for UAB, right? They went from not playing any football to playing football in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, they’re playing a team that didn’t take two years off. PECK’S PICK: OHIO -7.5

Wyoming (-7.5) vs Central Michigan in the POTATO BOWL: Wyoming QB Josh Allen is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, so go with him I guess? PECK’S PICK: WYOMING -7.5

USF (-2.5) vs Texas Tech in the BIRMINGHAM BOWL: I like USF, even though I’m certain that the Tampa kids don’t appreciate a December trip to Birmingham. I’ve been to Lubbock, so I’m sure Texas Tech gets to appreciate taking a trip anywhere. PECK’S PICK: USF -2.5

San Diego State (-6.5) vs Army in the ARMED FORCES BOWL: Rashad Penny, San Diego State’s star running back, is the player to watch in this game. Army just notched a huge win against Navy, so a letdown against SDSU is understandable. PECK’S PICK: SDSU -6.5

Toledo (-8) vs Appalachian State in the DOLLAR GENERAL BOWL: They should play this game inside an actual Dollar General. PECK’S PICK: TOLEDO -8

Houston (-2) vs Fresno State in the HAWAII BOWL: Fresno State got things rolling once they entered conference play. Seriously, there are so many of these games. PECK’S PICK: FRESNO STATE +2

Utah (-7) vs West Virginia in the HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: Finally, some teams I’ve definitely seen this year. Utah lost a lot of close games this year, while WVU will be without quarterback Will Grier, so I like the Utes in a fun one. PECK’S PICK: UTAH -7

Duke (-5) vs NIU in the QUICK LANE BOWL: As a kid, I remember getting so excited for the Quick Lane Bowl. Truly a tradition unlike any other. Wikipedia tells me it’s played in Detroit. PECK’S PICK: NIU +5

Kansas State (-2.5) vs UCLA in the CACTUS BOWL: This is the one they play on the baseball field in Phoenix. Unfortunately, they no longer cover the field with actual cacti to add a challenge for both teams. PECK’S PICK: UCLA +2.5

Come back next week for PART TWO!

 

BEFORE THE GAME: SEC CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION

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November was quite a month for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, and he capped it off by knocking out the reigning, defending, heavyweight champion of the SEC.

I watched Saturday’s Iron Bowl with Auburn fans, hanging on every play. Watching your team play against Alabama is like driving in a car that you’re certain is about to break down; it’s difficult to get comfortable, let alone confident, because every snap of the ball could bring the disastrous play that changes the game.

As Auburn built its lead, though, people slowly realized what they were seeing. Auburn wasn’t just winning on the scoreboard; it was outplaying Alabama at its own game. Alabama couldn’t run the ball, Alabama couldn’t get stops on third down that would allow its defense to leave the field, and Alabama couldn’t convert when it faced third down on offense. Once Auburn had regained the ball with a twelve-point lead in the fourth quarter, Alabama’s goose was cooked. There would be no miraculous rally, there would be no historic collapse. 26-14.

Now, as Malzahn and the #2 Tigers head to Atlanta, the stakes only get bigger. A win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game will send them to the College Football Playoff for the first time in team history. A team that seemed dead and buried after a loss to LSU on October 14 is now just as alive as anyone else, and a coach who had seen his tenure become unsustainably turbulent weathered the storm with expert precision.

When Alabama had the ball, Auburn’s defensive line was consistently disruptive. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is deadly when he’s able to utilize his legs to buy himself additional time to find receivers, but Auburn’s ferocious pass rush was able to pressure him throughout the game. When Hurts was able to get rid of the ball, he rarely found open receivers. Alabama is typically able to impose its will to the degree that third downs are manageable, but it simply couldn’t keep drives alive.

When Auburn had the ball, it did an excellent job of keeping the Alabama defense off-balance by mixing up its passes and runs. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham ran the ball, running back Kerryon Johnson threw the ball, receiver Ryan Davis caught everything thrown his way, and the Auburn offensive line provided enough push to allow plays to develop to their fullest potential. Stidham’s passes gave his receivers an opportunity to gain yardage after the catch. After a fumble ended a red-zone possession in the first quarter, the Auburn offense made practically no mistakes.

It completes a remarkable turnaround; Malzahn teams were so prone to surrendering big leads and so frequently beaten by highly ranked opponents that Auburn fans were despondent after the team blew a 20-0 lead in Baton Rouge. Sure, Malzahn could recapture the confidence of his fanbase by rallying the team and defeating Georgia and Alabama for the first time since 2013, but how likely did that seem.

Seven weeks later, here they are. In Atlanta. One win away from a spot in the playoff.

WHAT TO WATCH:

–          Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson injured his ribs in the second half against Alabama, and his availability for Saturday is in question. How ready will he be? If not, will Kam Martin or Devan Barrett receive additional playing time?

–          Georgia’s offensive line was beaten soundly in the first meeting between these two teams, and quarterback Jake Fromm took a pounding. Have they been able to figure out a better way to attack Auburn’s defense in the last few weeks? Is there a better way?

–          Auburn has leaned on kicker Daniel Carlson all season, and his ability to help convert drives into points has proven invaluable. If Saturday’s game is closer than the first, and it all boils down to a Carlson attempt, Auburn should feel good about its chances.

PECK’S PICKS (LAST WEEK 1-4, YTD 40-33)

–          STANFORD +3.5 VS USC: The USC defense is still suspicious against the run, and Stanford’s offense has come around in the last few weeks. PECK’S PICK: STANFORD +3.5

–          OHIO STATE -6 VS WISCONSIN: The Buckeyes have pulled themselves off the mat after getting blown out by Iowa and look to clinch a playoff spot by overwhelming the Badgers. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -6

–          TCU +7 VS OKLAHOMA: The Sooners look to take the nation’s best offense into the playoff and burst Alabama’s bubble in the process. PECK’S PICK: OKLAHOMA -7

–          NORTH TEXAS +11 VS FLORIDA ATLANTIC: Lane Kiffin took a moribund program and turned them into a force to be reckoned with. PECK’S PICK: FAU -11

–          GEORGIA +2 VS AUBURN: Georgia will be ready to compete, but Auburn is just too good for them at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN -2

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 13

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Calling it “the biggest game of the season” still feels like an understatement.

For only the second time in modern SEC history, the SEC West comes down to Saturday’s battle between #1 Alabama and #6 Auburn. The winner will play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and the winner of that game is assured a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Undefeated Alabama will face its toughest challenge of the year: a surging, battle-tested Auburn team playing at home. Alabama is favored (they’re always favored), but this isn’t a run-of-the-mill conference game where the Crimson Tide should be expected to lay waste to their opposition and showcase reserves throughout the second half.

Auburn features an offense that makes as many big plays as anyone in college football and a defense without any glaring weaknesses. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham spent the year eliminating any doubt in his ability to get the ball to his receivers. Stidham’s numbers are stellar; he’s completed nearly 70% of his passes and is averaging more than 9 yards per attempt. Running back Kerryon Johnson has 1172 rushing yards on the season; it’s the ninth consecutive season that an Auburn player gained more than 1000 yards on the ground. Auburn’s offensive line, the subject of a great deal of scrutiny following Auburn’s two losses on the season, has evolved into one of the team’s greatest strengths.

Even though spirits are high in Auburn and excitement is at a fever pitch, fans understand the height of the task at hand. Auburn will have to play its best game of the season on both sides of the ball if it hopes to knock off the nation’s top team. Auburn’s offense will need to stay balanced and keep Alabama’s defense guessing, while its defense will need to keep dangerous Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts from creating big plays with his feet and finding star receiver Calvin Ridley.

Auburn has the ability to put pressure on its opponent by turning a close game into a game on the verge of getting out of hand (just like it did against Georgia), and Alabama doesn’t have a lot of experience playing from behind this season – or even playing against a team capable of keeping pace. Alabama hasn’t had to play very many close games on the road this season, either; the team was clearly out of its element in Starkville before it steadied itself and rallied in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State.

When Alabama has the ball, the pressure will be on Auburn’s defensive line to rattle Jalen Hurts and force him to take his eyes away from his wideouts. Defensive end Jeff Holland – who merits serious consideration for SEC Defensive Player of the Year – will lead the charge for Auburn, but Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, and Derrick Brown will all have to contribute if Auburn wants to win third down.

With so much more on the line than bragging rights this year and both teams playing at such an exceptionally high level, the 2017 Iron Bowl feels like a classic in the making.

WHAT TO WATCH

–          Auburn’s secondary will have its hands full with Ridley; can it hold up if the game stays close late? Auburn has turned most of its SEC games into blowouts by the fourth quarter, so its defense will be in largely unfamiliar territory if the game comes down to one final drive.

–          Alabama has a talented group of running backs, including Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough. Auburn’s defense did an excellent job stifling Georgia’s impressive pair of running backs. If Auburn gets similar results against Alabama’s running game, the pressure on Jalen Hurts to perform will only increase.

–          Auburn features the nation’s best kicker, Daniel Carlson, and the last time Auburn won this rivalry game, it came down to a field goal that simply didn’t have enough leg. Will the game come down to a Carlson field goal? How should I know?

PECK’S PICKS (last week: 4-4, YTD 39-29)

–          MISSOURI -8 @ ARKANSAS – Missouri has been on an absolute tear for the last few weeks, slicing through Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt with little difficulty. Arkansas will be hard-pressed to slow down their offense. PECK’S PICK: MISSOURI -8

–          OHIO STATE -13 @ MICHIGAN – Ohio State still has a real shot at the Playoff, but they can’t afford to slip up and lose to a Michigan team desperate for a win against a rival. Michigan is beaten up and tired after battling Wisconsin last week, and they simply don’t have the talent to stay competitive with the Buckeyes. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -13

–          LOUISVILLE -10 @ KENTUCKY – Bobby Petrino’s offense has been great this year, but disappointing losses to Boston College and Wake Forest can be blamed on a defense that still hasn’t come around. Kentucky can score points and should be able to keep things close. PECK’S PICK: KENTUCKY +10

–          ARIZONA -2 @ ARIZONA STATE – Khalil Tate is still on a very short list of the best players in college football, and the Sun Devils will not be able to keep him from another impressive performance. PECK’S PICK: ARIZONA -2

–          ALABAMA -4.5 @ AUBURN – This is the main event of the evening, and the biggest college football game of the season so far. Alabama has done everything they need to do this year, but Auburn is scrappy and playing at home. Auburn wins. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN +4.5

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 12

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Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

I’m not talking about the fact that Peck’s Picks went 5-0 against the spread last week (more on that later). It’s been a long time since Auburn dominated a great team the way they pushed around the previously undefeated Georgia Bulldogs in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

It’s difficult to overstate how desperately Auburn fans wanted to see what they saw on Saturday. Georgia had won 9 of the previous 11 meetings between the two teams, many in blowout fashion. A loss to LSU earlier in the season was placed squarely at head coach Gus Malzahn’s feet after Auburn’s offense inexplicably became staunchly conservative in a failed attempt to protect a 20-0 first-half lead.

Watching Auburn stay aggressive and turn a 16-7 halftime lead into a full-blown rout was cathartic for a community that was ready to help Malzahn pack his bags a month earlier – and based on Malzahn’s enthusiastic response to the victory on the sidelines and the spontaneous dance party that erupted on Auburn’s sideline in the fourth quarter (complete with Soulja Boy), fans weren’t the only ones who wanted it.

Auburn’s offense was fueled by Kerryon Johnson, who finished the game with 233 yards from scrimmage, including a 55-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass that effectively ended things. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was stellar again, making virtually no mistakes and throwing a gorgeous touchdown to Darius Slayton. Auburn’s offensive line, inconsistent throughout the first half of the season, paved the way for an offense that finished the game with 476 yards of total offense while only allowing two sacks.

Defensively, Auburn kept Georgia from ever getting into gear after the Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead by converting on their opening drive. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm had to worry about defensive linemen swarming him throughout the game and celebrated running back tandem Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for only 48 rushing yards.

It was an immense, narrative-changing victory for Malzahn. Not only had his aggressiveness come into question after the loss to LSU, but it had been too long since Auburn defeated a really good team. Mississippi State is certainly above-average, but Auburn hadn’t beaten a top-tier team since the game against Ole Miss in 2014. The loss to Clemson earlier this year was Auburn’s fifth consecutive loss when playing against a team ranked in the top 5; that streak is over. People wondered if Malzahn’s offense, playing without a quarterback who is a threat to run all over the field, could generate enough firepower to overwhelm a high-quality opponent; those questions have been answered.

By defeating Georgia, Auburn kept its hopes of postseason glory alive. A win against #1 Alabama on November 25 will send Auburn to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2013, where a rematch with Georgia will decide what team will represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff. Auburn is still firmly in the hunt and the Tigers are surging as the season’s conclusion approaches.

Before that fateful game with the Crimson Tide, however, the #6 Tigers host the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in a game that could ruin everything. Malzahn and his coaching staff will have their hands full keeping the team focused on the task at hand after such a monumental, emotional, and pivotal victory on Saturday. Thankfully, even a sloppy and imperfect Auburn team should be able to dispatch ULM with very little difficulty. Here’s hoping the team avoids any significant injuries and continues to build momentum as one of the biggest Iron Bowls of all time looms on the horizon.

WHAT TO WATCH:

–          How much will Kerryon Johnson play? Auburn will be looking to get its starters out of the game as quickly as possible and provide them some extra rest before the matchup against Alabama. However, Johnson is increasingly mentioned as a potential candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and there could be some desire from Auburn to improve his statistics against an inferior opponent.

–          If Johnson isn’t used as frequently as they’ve used him in other games this year, who will be the next back off the bench for the Tigers? Reserve running backs Kam Martin and Devan Barrett both saw time against Georgia and, if Kerryon were to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft after the season, figure to be key pieces of next year’s team. Will Auburn use this week as an opportunity to feature them more?

–          Will the fans show up? Auburn students have next week off, and many will skip town as soon as class is over on Friday (or sooner). The stadium won’t be rocking like it was last week. Hopefully Auburn won’t need to utilize its home-field advantage late in the game.

PECK’S PICKS (Last Week: 5-0[!!!!!], YTD 35-25)

–          UAB +10.5 @ FLORIDA – Florida is in a freefall, and there is far more interest around who the Gators will hire as their new head coach than anything that could happen on the field this Saturday. UAB is playing tough; head coach Bill Clark deserves credit for the tremendous job he’s done with a program that was left for dead by its school’s administration. Florida has more talent, but UAB will have more effort and might even pull off the upset. PECK’S PICK: UAB +10.5

–          MISSOURI -8.5 @ VANDERBILT – Speaking of left for dead, Missouri looked to be in tatters after three consecutive blowout losses at home early in the season, but the Tigers have rallied. Drew Lock is putting up the best numbers of any quarterback in the conference and Missouri has thumped Florida and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks. Look for Mizzou to keep things going. PECK’S PICK: MISSOURI -8.5

–          LSU -15.5 @ TENNESSEE: And speaking of that team Missouri just demolished, there’s just no fight left in the Volunteers. In a desolate stadium, against a relentless LSU offense that will run the ball behind Darius Guice, I don’t expect things to stay competitive for long. PECK’S PICK: LSU -15.5

–          MICHIGAN +7.5 @ WISCONSIN – Wisconsin faces its toughest opponent thus far: a Michigan team that has been on a tear since the October debacle in Happy Valley. Wisconsin should win close, but I expect Michigan to keep things far too close for comfort. PECK’S PICK: MICHIGAN +7.5

–          OKLAHOMA -37 @ KANSAS – This is just unfair. If this horrendous Kansas team even stays within four touchdowns of the best offense in college football, they should name the stadium after head coach David Beaty. PECK’S PICK: OKLAHOMA -37

–          MISSISSIPPI STATE -12 @ ARKANSAS – A great time to bet against a team is right after its AD gets fired for being too loyal to the embattled head coach. The Bulldogs look like the fourth best team in the conference (even as they collapsed in the fourth quarter against Alabama). The Razorbacks seem years away from competing in the West. PECK’S PICK: MSU -12

–          UCLA +16 @ USC – As a UCLA alum, it pains me to say that the Bruins won’t be able to get enough stops to keep the game close against a high-powered USC offense that has diced up the other teams in its division. PECK’S PICK: USC -16

–          LOUISIANA MONROE +37 @ AUBURN – Will Auburn be focused on burying their guests from the Sun Belt? ULM can score points, Auburn played an emotional game last week, and nobody can blame Auburn for letting thoughts about next week’s opponent creep into its collective mind. Auburn wins, but ULM covers late. PECK’S PICK: ULM +37

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 11

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On Saturday, #10 Auburn plays its biggest home game in years against #1 Georgia, and it’s impossible to overemphasize the stakes: a win would provide head coach Gus Malzahn with much-desired job security and keep alive Auburn’s chances of winning the SEC and advancing to the College Football Playoff for the first time in team history, while a loss would advance the narrative that Malzahn’s teams have lost the ability to defeat elite opposition.

It’s ridiculous to suggest that losing to the #1 team in the nation is ever “unacceptable,” but there are those in Auburn still angry about losses to Georgia in 2015 and 2016 (when Auburn seemingly had a better team going into the game) ready to wash their hands of Malzahn if he loses to Georgia for a fourth consecutive time. This moment has been building since before the 2017 season began. It’s all or nothing.

Auburn is coming off an inspired performance at Texas A&M. For the first time in conference play all season, Auburn’s offense didn’t begin the game by scoring a lot of points and immediately putting pressure on the opposition; A&M’s defense held its own for most of the first two quarters and nearly held a 13-7 lead going into halftime before Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (who, as it was mentioned a ridiculous number of times going into the first half, grew up in Texas) fired a gorgeous pass to receiver Darius Slayton to spark an onslaught that led to Auburn taking a 35-13 lead in the third quarter – and eventually winning 42-27.

The Tigers have shown real versatility against SEC competition: they’ve moved the ball on the ground and through the air, they’ve stopped the run, they’ve featured a tenacious pass rush, and they’ve played well in the secondary. People are tired of Malzahn talking almost exclusively about “execution” after losses, but when Auburn’s offense is executing, it’s difficult to explain how a defense can stop it.

Georgia boasts similar strengths: a rushing attack that features a pair of running backs who currently rank third and eighth in the conference in yards, a passing offense that does enough to back defenders up, and a defense that has held its own, week after week. The Bulldogs will look to do to Auburn what they’ve been able to do in every other game they’ve played this season: establish the run, build a lead, and take advantage of mistakes after forcing the opponent into becoming one-dimensional. However, Auburn represents a considerable step up in competition for Georgia, as the Bulldogs haven’t really been challenged since a mid-September victory at Notre Dame. Georgia has laid waste to the downtrodden SEC East and, like Auburn, steamrolled a Mississippi State team that could finish the season 9-3. If the game stays competitive into the final minutes, perhaps Auburn will be able to draw on its experience in close games this season, as the Tigers appear to be the more battle-tested team.

Georgia has won 9 of the 11 in its rivalry against Auburn; a silver lining for Auburn fans is the knowledge that the last two times the Tigers beat Georgia, they went on to win the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship (and, in 2010, the BCS National Championship). Those lofty goals are still realistic possibilities for the 2017 Auburn Tigers, but they’ll need to beat Georgia in to keep them alive.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Expect Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson to receive the bulk of the carries (Malzahn tends to lean heavily on his star players, especially in big games), but backup Kam Martin has established himself as the first guy off the bench and possesses a second gear that could provide big plays for the Tigers if they turn to him when Johnson needs a break.

– Auburn has given up 14 sacks in its two losses, so pass protection will be crucial – particularly on third down. Mistakes from the offensive line, Stidham, or even offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey (who found himself being criticized for play-calling decisions he made in Auburn’s losses to Clemson and LSU) could have huge ramifications if the game is as close as it looks like it could be.

– Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has enjoyed the luxury of a successful ground game throughout his freshman season; a competitive game on the road in a raucous SEC stadium will be a new experience for him. His response to the pressure he’ll face on Saturday will play an outsized role in deciding the victor.

PECK’S PICKS (last week 3-2, YTD 30-25)

TCU +6.5 @ OKLAHOMA: One of several games this weekend that will eliminate a team from playoff contention, I like the white-hot Oklahoma offense to distance itself from TCU in the second half. PECK’S PICK: OKLAHOMA -6.5

WEST VIRGINIA +2.5 @ KANSAS STATE: The Mountaineers can score with the best teams in the Big 12; Kansas State should slow them down initially, but won’t be able to keep up all game. PECK’S PICK: WEST VIRGINIA +2.5

FLORIDA +6 @ SOUTH CAROLINA: South Carolina could have a letdown just a week after a hard-fought loss to Georgia, but Florida just looks abysmal and effort should be a question after the way they played against Missouri. PECK’S PICK: SOUTH CAROLINA -6

MICHIGAN STATE +17 @ OHIO STATE: Last week’s shocking blowout loss to Iowa all but ends Ohio State’s chances of making the College Football Playoff, but they remain in contention for the conference championship and Urban Meyer practically never loses conference home games. Look for an inspired effort from the Buckeyes. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -17

GEORGIA -2.5 @ AUBURN: Recent history favors Georgia, but I like the home team to draw on lessons it learned in its two defeats. Auburn wins a close game. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN +2.5

 

Enjoy the games!

 

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 10

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Down the stretch they come.

#14 Auburn, fresh off a desperately needed bye week, returns to action this week as it takes the long trip to Texas A&M. The Tigers can still win the SEC West – and more – but a misstep in College Station will end those dreams (and, potentially, Gus Malzahn’s tenure as head coach).

The Tigers received unwelcome news earlier this week when it was announced that Kamryn Pettway, who was finally starting to regain the form that made him one of the best running backs in the SEC in 2016, would miss significant time with a broken shoulder blade. It’s a disappointing development: the possibility of teaming Pettway with a healthy Kerryon Johnson is tantalizing, but Pettway’s shoulder injury ends the possibility of seeing the tandem in action together anytime soon.

With Pettway sidelined, Auburn’s offense will have to depend on Johnson to continue to receive an outsized number of carries; reserve running backs like sophomore Kam Martin, freshman Malik Miller, and freshman Devan Barrett should contribute when Johnson needs a break. The undersized Martin might be Auburn’s fastest offensive player, and his absence from the offense in recent weeks has been puzzling. Miller, a powerful runner listed at 235 pounds, seems to be an obvious choice to fill Pettway’s shoes as a bruiser. Barrett is like a cross between the other two (bigger and slower than Martin, smaller and faster than Miller), but he features a forceful burst and smoothness that indicates he’ll be a major factor in the offense down the line. Earlier this week, Malzahn suggested that all three will play a role in the game at Texas A&M.

The Aggies were flattened by Mississippi State last week, falling into a 21-0 hole early in the third quarter before eventually losing 35-14. MSU rushed for 228 yards and stifled A&M’s offense; A&M rushed for just 96 yards and only completed 16 of its 41 pass attempts. Auburn appears to be better than Mississippi State on both sides of the ball (just disregard that whole LSU thing), so it will take an inspired effort from Texas A&M to avoid another lopsided defeat. A&M’s struggles throwing the ball are particularly puzzling because a strong passing game is usually a trademark of a team led by A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. The return of quarterback Nick Starkel, who was injured in Texas A&M’s opener against UCLA, could provide a spark for an offense that trended downwards throughout October. If Sumlin find a way to cure A&M’s offensive woes during the season’s final act, there will almost assuredly be a new coach in College Station next year.

When Auburn has the ball, it should have the advantage against an A&M defense that surrenders 27 points a game on average. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is having an impressive season, Johnson leads the nation in touchdowns, and Auburn has found a way to build a large early lead in every single conference game it has played so far and held that lead in almost every game (again, I implore you, ignore what happened in Baton Rouge).

With the Georgia and Alabama games on the horizon, it’s crucial for the Tigers to flex their muscles against an overmatched opponent. A lopsided victory for Auburn will give the Tigers more reason for confidence as they face off against the class of the SEC in their final two conference games; a close victory will give Auburn valuable experience in tight, late-game situations (Georgia and Alabama haven’t played many close games in 2017). A loss would be catastrophic.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– A&M’s defense will attempt to stifle Auburn’s ability to create big plays; this is easier said than done. A defense that tries to prevent Stidham from going deep will open itself up to short passes that can turn into large gains (and prevent its secondary from being able to provide sufficient help against the run), while a defense focused on stopping Auburn’s potent rushing attack could give Stidham an opportunity for a career night. It could be a pick your poison scenario, particularly if Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey finds a way to exploit weaknesses in an overly aggressive opponent.

– Auburn’s offensive line should welcome back center Casey Dunn after he sat out against Arkansas. Many factors contributed to Auburn’s collapse against LSU (I promise I’ll stop bringing it up eventually), but Auburn’s offense seemingly never recovered from losing Dunn to a knee injury in the second quarter. With Dunn at center and Austin Golson shifted to tackle, Auburn will have its best offensive linemen available at their best positions, making the task even more daunting for Texas A&M.

– What kind of crowd will be in attendance? Last Saturday, A&M was throttled at home, at night, coming off a bye week. Now, a seemingly superior opponent comes to town and the game kicks off at 11 AM. Will A&M fans be their traditional rowdy selves? If Auburn takes an early lead on Saturday, expect the negativity and frustration that has simmered throughout that fanbase during Sumlin’s tenure to boil over in a very public way.

PECK’S PICKS (last week: 3-2, YTD 27-23)

SOUTH CAROLINA +24 @ GEORGIA: The Bulldogs have a chance to all but lock up the SEC East, but the visiting Gamecocks will put up a fight and the chance is there for Georgia to underachieve in the week between its games against Florida and Auburn. I’m not sure if Carolina can score the upset but I don’t expect them to get destroyed. PECK’S PICK: SOUTH CAROLINA +24

OKLAHOMA +2 @ OKLAHOMA STATE: Essentially an elimination game for two teams still very alive in the College Football Playoff, this is a game that figures to be extremely high-scoring. Baker Mayfield wins a quarterback duel with Mason Rudolph and the Sooners make just enough plays on defense to win. PECK’S PICK: OKLAHOMA +2

ARIZONA +7 @ USC: Khalil Tate, the hottest player in college football, is running Rich Rodriguez’s system as well as anyone ever has (yes, including Pat White and Denard Robinson). USC’s run defense looked so porous against Notre Dame; it’s difficult to imagine that they’ve made substantial improvements just two weeks later. PECK’S PICK: ARIZONA +7

UCF -14.5 @ SMU: We were telling you about Scott Frost before it was cool. PECK’S PICK: UCF -14.5

VIRGINIA TECH -1 @ MIAMI: Miami just seems so fraudulent. They’re winning games, but it seems like they’re due. Virginia Tech is an explosive offense with a great coach. PECK’S PICK: MIAMI +1

AUBURN -15 @ TEXAS A&M: Auburn’s offense put it together against Arkansas last week, and now faces an A&M team with wobbly legs, primed to be knocked out. Look for Auburn to take a big lead early and distance itself from an A&M team that will not be able to mount a rally behind an anemic passing attack. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN -15

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM,
ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM,
WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

 

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 9

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Auburn is on its bye week, but we here at BTG believe in no weeks off.

The Tigers went up to Arkansas and did what they’ve done in every SEC game this season: they built a comfortable lead in the first half. However, in following a satisfactory half with a spectacular third quarter that put the game out of reach, Auburn was able to do against Arkansas what fans desperately wanted to see against LSU a week earlier. Instead of attempting to protect a lead and relying on the defense to be flawless, Auburn hungered for more points and continued to attack, turning a 17-6 lead into 38-6 before the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Arkansas is a team in the midst of a bad season, and a win over Auburn would have generated some much-needed positivity around the program. Auburn came to Arkansas vulnerable, having just lost a very disappointing game to LSU. What could have been a catastrophic loss for Auburn and a signature victory for Bret Bielema became a rout, reminding Auburn fans of its team’s impressive firepower.

The reemergence of running back and 2016 sensation Kamryn Pettway as an impact player on the Auburn offense was a welcome sight after seeing him struggle earlier in the season. Pettway’s rare combination of size, speed, shiftiness and brute strength – the talents that he used to rush for over 1200 yards last season – were on full display when Auburn turned to him in the third quarter against Arkansas. If Auburn can continue leaning on Pettway, particularly after giving defenses a steady diet of running back Kerryon Johnson, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Auburn’s chances down the stretch.

Auburn will enjoy the week off and allow its banged-up roster to heal. Its next opponent, Texas A&M, must first overcome a physical Mississippi State team. I’m interested to see if the A&M defense holds its own against the MSU running game; the Bulldogs struggle to get anything going if they’re forced to become one-dimensional. If Texas A&M is still showing the flaws on defense that were evident in its collapse against UCLA and high-scoring overtime win against Arkansas, Mississippi State could score a lot of points.

We’ll have more on Auburn @ Texas A&M next week.

PECK’S PICKS: (last week: 2-4, YTD: 24-21)

TCU -6.5 @ Iowa State: The Cyclones have become one of the best stories in college football, but they simply won’t be able to keep up with TCU’s offense.  PECK’S PICK: TCU -6.5

Duke +15.5 @ Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech’s head coach, will be one of the most sought-after coaches in the nation after the season; he’s played a key role in turning VT into one of the best offenses in the conference. PECK’S PICK: VT -15.5

Washington State -2.5 @ Arizona: Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez are a pair of mad scientists with quarterbacks who run their respective offenses to absolute perfection. Khalil Tate has had college football buzzing, and I expect the Wildcats to ride him to another improbable victory. PECK’S PICK: ARIZONA +2.5

Georgia -13.5 @ Florida (in Jacksonville): The Bulldogs have proven unstoppable in SEC play thus far; Florida had extremely close wins against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, three teams Georgia smashed. Florida has done very well in this rivalry before, but they are simply outmanned this year. PECK’S PICK: GEORGIA -13.5

Penn State +6.5 @ Ohio State: Penn State has looked great, but betting against an Urban Meyer team playing at home, particularly in a conference game, is almost always unwise. PECK’S PICK: OHIO STATE -6.5

 

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM,
ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM,
WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 8

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As you’re no doubt aware, Auburn took a 20-0 lead in the second quarter against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge (where they haven’t won since 1999) before LSU rallied to win the game 27-23. Auburn’s fast start was as remarkable as its collapse was astonishing; its offense was a machine operating at full power until the plug was suddenly pulled.

The Tigers gained 290 yards of offense in the first half and 64 in the second. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson-powered run game, seemingly unstoppable in the first quarter, stalled out after LSU adjusted – leaving the Auburn offense flustered and unable to gain any ground. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, after three conference games in which his accuracy was pinpoint, only completed 3 of his final 18 pass attempts in Tiger Stadium after completing 6 of his first 8. Auburn’s play calling on offense succeeded at keeping LSU off-balance at the beginning of the game, but when Auburn had to gain yardage and keep its defense off the field to protect its lead, it couldn’t.

The loss is devastating for Auburn. The Tigers entered their road trip optimistic that they could go into their November 11 meeting with Georgia 6-0 in conference play and still firmly in the thick of the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead, they have to dust themselves off, beat a pair of conference foes on the road, and hope that they’re provided enough help to remain in contention for the SEC West as games against its most hated rivals approach.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn came to college football as a visionary. At its full potential, his hurry-up, run-heavy spread offense was a thing of beauty. If he isn’t retained by Auburn after the season is over, it won’t surprise me at all if he is able to find another job as a head coach (or perhaps even as offensive coordinator at a powerhouse); Saturday just appeared to be the breaking point for many fans willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after disappointing losses in recent years. This season seems critical for Malzahn if he is to continue as Auburn’s coach, and a loss like the one Saturday, in which Auburn’s offense became overly conservative and ineffective at the worst possible time, did considerable damage to his case.

Smarter people than I have wondered if a quarterback who represents a genuine threat as a runner is required for Gus Malzahn to operate his offense at its true potential. Nick Marshall and Cam Newton were particularly special talents who excelled in Malzahn’s offense, efforts to replace them have led to crucial games in which Auburn’s passing game falls apart and plays a role in a narrow loss. Against LSU, attempts to run the ball in the second half were stymied (perhaps because the quarterback himself is no threat to run), and attempts to throw the ball were frequently at a difficult down and distance – leading Stidham to throw several passes that were very nearly intercepted. Stidham had thrown sensational passes in previous weeks, but LSU’s inspired and aggressive defensive effort in the second half prevented him from ever getting comfortable.

Fans who have questioned play calling choices, and specifically the choice to run exclusively on first down and throw several deep passes on third down, were reminded of Auburn’s game against Clemson, in which the team started out moving the ball effectively only to stall out on drive after drive after the opponent changed its approach. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who called some ingenious plays to spark Auburn’s 20-0 lead, couldn’t figure out how to successfully attack LSU once it started to bottle up Johnson on first down.

Malzahn, who suddenly needs a win as desperately as any coach in the conference, heads to his home state of Arkansas on Saturday night with the #21 Tigers to take on Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who are somehow playing their first conference home game of the season. If Auburn jumps out to the same fast start that it has for four consecutive SEC games, the frustration and disappointment of the Arkansas faithful will be loud and clear. If Arkansas’s offense can sustain drives and attack Auburn’s banged-up defense, and the game remains competitive for much longer than Auburn would like, there’s potential for an upset that would simply be catastrophic to Auburn’s season.

 

WHAT TO WATCH:

– With rain forecasted for Fayetteville on Saturday night, Auburn will likely play its first game of the season in inclement weather. Deep passing attempts have become a hallmark of Auburn’s offense over the last few weeks, but the elements could detract from those efforts. Will stormy, windy conditions play into the hands of the Razorbacks, who will start a backup quarterback and would assuredly prefer a low-scoring game with few pass attempts from either side?

– Auburn’s defense had its worst game of the season on Saturday against LSU, surrendering more big plays than it had all season. The Tigers have played every week since the season started without a bye, so it’s fair to wonder if fatigue is a factor. Auburn will be off the week after the Arkansas game, so Auburn fans must hope that the team isn’t already thinking about what they’ll be doing with their free time over Halloween weekend.

– The aforementioned backup quarterback for Arkansas is the gargantuan Cole Kelley, who appears to be in the neighborhood of eight feet tall and 450 pounds. Kelley is responsible for much of the excitement about Arkansas’s future, and the buzz around the freshman will only increase if he’s able to secure a home win against a heavily favored opponent on Saturday night.

 

PECK’S PICKS: Last week: 3-2, YTD: 22-17

– SMU -7.5 @ Cincinnati – SMU head coach Chad Morris is increasingly mentioned as a candidate for a job in the Power Five, and the Mustangs will have plenty of opportunities to raise his profile even further as they square off against UCF, Navy, and Memphis in November. I expect them to throw the ball up and down the field against a struggling Cincinnati team on Saturday. PECK’S PICK: SMU -7.5

– USC +3.5 @ Notre Dame –  The Irish are running the ball extremely well and face off against a USC team that has played quite a few close games and surrendered more points than head coach Clay Helton would like. This is a de facto elimination game in the College Football Playoff race, and I expect the Trojans to get a big game out of quarterback Sam Darnold to stay alive in the hunt. PECK’S PICK: USC +3.5

– Boston College +6.5 @ Virginia: Virginia is getting better every week and will be a team to watch in the ACC next season, particularly if a program is able to lure away Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente. Boston College pulled off a remarkable upset at Louisville but Virginia’s passing game will present a different set of problems for the Eagles. PECK’S PICK: VIRGINIA -6.5

– Maryland +24 @ Wisconsin: Wisconsin is powering towards an undefeated season and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, while Maryland looks deflated and will have little interest in continuously tackling Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. PECK’S PICK: WISCONSIN -24

– Syracuse +17 @ Miami – Syracuse qualifies as another team playing better football every week, while Miami has been good and lucky. PECK’S PICK: SYRACUSE +17

– Auburn -15.5 @ Arkansas – BYU, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Troy, and Florida all lost the game after the LSU game. It might be a strange coincidence, but perhaps there’s something to the idea that LSU plays an extremely physical game that drains opponents and prevents them from having their best stuff a week later. Auburn certainly qualifies as beaten-up and drained, and Arkansas could be there to take advantage. PECK’S PICK: ARKANSAS +15.5

 

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com

BEFORE THE GAME: WEEK 7

By | Talent Columns | No Comments

The last time Auburn won in Baton Rouge, it was 1999. Eighteen years is an eternity in the SEC West. College football dynasties have risen and fallen since Auburn’s last victory in Tiger Stadium.

Auburn and LSU have played eight times in Baton Rouge since 1999. Some of the games were close (2005, 2007) and some of them weren’t (virtually all the others), but LSU won every single time.

This year, #10 Auburn heads to LSU on a hot streak after three consecutive one-sided conference victories, including a blowout win against a Mississippi State team that beat LSU by thirty. The evidence we’ve been given this season suggests that Auburn should beat LSU comfortably, but my brain keeps reminding me that this is Baton Rouge and Auburn simply doesn’t win comfortably in Baton Rouge. I’m like an old farmer that refuses to believe the radar-assisted weather forecast because it doesn’t feel like it’s going to rain. I refuse to believe Auburn can go into Baton Rouge, play like the vastly superior team, and push LSU around until I see it happen with my own two eyes.

Auburn’s 44-23 victory against Ole Miss on Saturday was a lot like its previous two conference victories: the offense, spurred by quarterback Jarrett Stidham and running back Kerryon Johnson, quickly put Auburn’s opponent in a big hole, while the defense played very well and prevented the opposition from keeping up with the barrage of points. Auburn took a double-digit lead with four minutes to go in the first quarter and never relinquished it. Ole Miss scored 20 of its 23 points in the second half, as Auburn gave playing time to its reserves. Putting aside some offensive sluggishness from Auburn once the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt, the Tigers played nearly flawless football.

If LSU’s early-season struggles can’t merely be blamed on underachieving, the Auburn Tigers should have enough talent to beat them the way they’ve beaten the first three conference teams they were matched up against. Auburn’s balanced offense continues to protect Jarrett Stidham, generate big plays, and keep defenses guessing.

If LSU can generate a consistent pass rush, Auburn should have more difficulty moving the ball than in recent weeks. Auburn’s offensive line has been one of its strengths in the weeks since it allowed 11 sacks against Clemson, opening up space for the running backs and consistently giving Stidham enough time. Defense has been a tentpole for LSU throughout its home winning streak against Auburn, but this year’s group doesn’t play like an LSU defense all the time.

It boils down to this: if Auburn shows up and plays to its full potential, LSU will have a very difficult time keeping its home win streak in this series alive. There are too many weapons on the Auburn offense and LSU isn’t equipped to play from behind or trade scores against a team with a more proficient quarterback. If Auburn sputters offensively and allows LSU to keep the game competitive and gain confidence, this could become yet another disappointing trip to Baton Rouge.

 

WHAT TO WATCH:

– LSU linebacker Arden Key entered the season with a lot of hype, but his on-field production thus far hasn’t justified the buzz. However, he played his best game of the season against Florida, and he’ll be a crucial part of LSU’s efforts to disrupt Stidham and keep Auburn’s passing offense from having the kind of success it has enjoyed in its previous three games.

– In true Gus Malzahn fashion, Auburn has utilized receiver Eli Stove in the running game recently, and he’s provided big plays in return. With Kerryon Johnson enjoying a great deal of success between the tackles, Auburn should continue to slow defenses down by forcing them to worry about sweeps and toss plays that can use a defense’s aggressiveness against them.

– Auburn’s defensive line will need to continually pressure LSU quarterback Danny Etling. Opposing quarterbacks have had very little time against Auburn’s defense and Auburn has taken advantage of subsequent mistakes. LSU won’t be able to pull off the upset if Etling makes similar errors.

 

PECK’S PICKS (Last week 2-3, YTD: 19-15)

– MICHIGAN -7.5 @ INDIANA: The Wolverines fizzled in a downpour against Michigan State last week; their national championship hopes hinge on their ability to run the table. Indiana won’t be able to keep pace. PECK’S PICK: MICHIGAN -7.5

– TEXAS A&M +3 @ FLORIDA: A&M held its own against Alabama. Florida rarely loses back-to-back home games, but the Gators have serious problems on offense and its defense will be on the field a lot against the Aggies. PECK’S PICK: TEXAS A&M +3

– VIRGINIA -4 @ UNC: UNC is bad, while Bronco Mendenhall has UVA improving game-to-game. Look for UVA to avenge last year’s blowout loss in the South’s Oldest Rivalry and cause headaches for ACC opposition moving forward. PECK’S PICK: VIRGINIA -4

– VANDERBILT +3.5 @ OLE MISS: A pair of struggling SEC teams meet up, but Ole Miss has offensive weapons that Vanderbilt will struggle to bottle up. Ole Miss’s defense will welcome an opportunity to face Vanderbilt after back-to-back games against Alabama and Auburn. PECK’S PICK: OLE MISS -3.5

– AUBURN -7 @ LSU: This would be an easy pick if I weren’t so traumatized by prior trips to Baton Rouge. LSU’s defense will be stretched thin trying to stop Auburn’s multipronged attack, while the Auburn defense should do a capable job keeping LSU in check. PECK’S PICK: AUBURN -7

 

Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM, ESPNAU.com)
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM, WingsFM.com)
http://www.twitter.com/DanielAllenPeck
DPeck@aunetwork.com