Auburn’s football season has been unpredictable.
The team notched a fairly impressive win against Kentucky in the season opener.
Dealing with injuries and rebuilding at offensive line, defensive line and in the secondary, the Tigers then narrowly avoided a four-game losing streak. Auburn got some good fortune on officiating decisions against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Running back Tank Bigsby emerged during that stretch and looks like a generational player.
Auburn then smashed LSU, a result that surprised me despite knowing how vulnerable LSU’s defense is this season.
So how good is this Tigers team, really? With four regular-season games left, we’ll take a realistic look at the potential betting lines and matchups.
The projected lines are based on ESPN’s SP+ with a two-point adjustment for home-field advantage, rounded to the nearest half-point. Sportsbooks don’t ever make a team a half-point favorite, so I had to round a little further for Texas A&M-Auburn.
Auburn -12.5 at Mississippi State (Nov. 14)
The deeper we get into the season, the more incriminating things look for LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and a large number of Pac-12 coaches.
Rush three and drop eight into coverage against the Mike Leach Air Raid and you’ll succeed, just as Washington did for many years. I don’t expect Kevin Steele to try to be a maverick in his approach to this game.
Standout running back Kylin Hill and Alabama transfer receiver Tyrell Shavers, which accounted for 260 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, are no longer with the team. Stanford transfer quarterback K.J. Costello has been surprisingly awful.
Mississippi State has scored 21 offensive points in its last four games while giving up 21 points to opposing defenses on interception returns for touchdowns.
However, Mississippi State’s defense has been surprisingly good, especially against the run. Mississippi State is allowing 3.4 yards per carry, second in the SEC.
If the Bulldogs haven’t quit on their coaches, the spread should come down to whether Auburn can score enough to cover the number. A Mississippi State outright win seems highly unlikely.
Tennessee at Auburn -11 (Nov. 21)
Although the Vols meltdown has been slightly less dramatic than the one in Starkville, the teams are not all that dissimilar.
Tennessee’s offense ranks 85th in SP+ and its defense ranks 28th.
Pro Football Focus shows Tennessee is decent at running the ball and in pass coverage but poor at throwing the ball and average at defending the run. Among teams that Auburn has played, Tennessee’s profile is most similar to South Carolina’s.
Tennessee’s game against Kentucky aside, Jarrett Guarantano makes fewer mistakes than Bo Nix but also takes fewer risks and is throwing to less talented receivers.
Josh Palmer is lesser version of Seth Williams. The two are similar in stature and Palmer is good at winning 50/50 balls over smaller defensive backs, but isn’t as well-rounded as Williams.
It used to be that in the SEC, the team that ran the ball better always won. That’s less true now, but I believe it will apply to this game. And Bigsby will be the best running back on the field.
Auburn +18 at Alabama (Nov. 28)
Barring two more pick sixes from Mac Jones, it’s going to be hard for the Tigers to stop the Tide offense, even without Jaylen Wadde.
The offensive line is good. The running game is extremely efficient but not very explosive.
If you play close to the line of scrimmage, Jones can hit DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III on deep balls. If you play to prevent the explosive passing play, Bama is content to carve you up underneath.
We’ve seen Alabama’s defense struggle with tempo, especially against Ole Miss. We’ve also seen the Tide miss assignments after pre-snap motion.
Outside of scoring on defense or in the return game, Auburn’s best chance is to push the pace, use a lot of pre-snap eye candy and try to exploit Tide defensive mistakes.
Texas A&M at Auburn pick’em (Dec. 5)
This is probably the most fascinating game left on the schedule for both teams.
The Aggies could be contending for a College Football Playoff spot. Texas A&M could enter the postseason with one loss (to Alabama).
If Auburn goes 2-1 prior to hosting Texas A&M, it can salvage a 7-3 season by winning this game.
The loss at South Carolina would remain ugly. A subset of fans would remain irritated (or worse) about how the team looked in the Georgia loss and even in a few wins.
But in a transition year on defense, Auburn wasn’t expected to win at Georgia or at Alabama. And 7-3 would be a better result than most anyone imagined after a 2-2 start with LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M still on the schedule.
The Aggies run offense at a snail’s pace that limits possessions. These programs are similar in terms of roster talent and team strength so far this season.
If Texas A&M wins out and Auburn goes 2-1, expect a tossup game between motivated programs.
Christopher Smith is a professional handicapper who specializes in college football and basketball. He’s the founder of Sports Locksmith.