Auburn will beat Clemson when the two meet this Saturday.
It sounds crazy at first. If you look at their rankings (the Associated Press ranks Clemson at No. 14, whereas Auburn is unranked) and the fact that Clemson gave Auburn a 38-24 beatdown last year, Clemson appears to come out way ahead.
But if you dig a bit beneath the surface, you'll find that the Auburn Tigers are more than capable of handling their Clemson counterparts this season.
For starters, this year's game will be played in Atlanta. That's absolutely key. Clemson has never beaten Auburn in Atlanta. While it's not home-field advantage for Auburn, it should come close.
History favors Auburn as well. Before its loss last year, Auburn had beaten Clemson in 14 straight games, dating all the way back to 1952. Those games may be in the past, but that level of dominance suggests that Auburn simply has Clemson's number.
This year, Clemson will face what should be a much-improved Auburn defense. Clemson racked up 624 total yards against Auburn last season, shredding the Tigers.
VanGorder has experienced great success in college football, particularly in the early 2000s when he served as the defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs. He inherits a veteran defense that returns nine starters and should be far more prepared for Clemson this year.
Offensively, Auburn also matches up pretty well. Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier is inexperienced, so head coach Gene Chizik will be looking to run the ball early and often.
That's something that should trouble Clemson, whom Auburn gashed with the running game last season. Auburn's rushing success against the Tigers was hidden behind Clemson's own gaudy stats, but the team rang up 237 yards on just 38 attempts, an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Clemson also changed defensive coordinators for this season (hiring Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables), but Venables is being given a less-experienced and talented defense than VanGorder. He'll be hard pressed to stop the Auburn rushing attack with such a group.
Ignore all of the rankings and the hoopla surrounding Clemson this weekend—the world may not know it yet, but Clemson isn't leaving Atlanta with a victory