The Washington State Cougars will be better than their 2012 record indicates (3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12), but the program will have a tough test in Week 1 against the much improved Auburn Tigers.
Auburn is coming off one of the worst seasons in recent memory (went 3-9 as well and failed to win a game against SEC opponents), and both teams searching for redemption will result in a hard-fought battle.
This is far from the flashiest matchup, but when the Tigers and Cougars square off Saturday night, this will be a game college football fans do not want to miss.
When: Saturday, August 31 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
Watch: ESPN U
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: Free Football Radio
Betting Line (via Bovada)
Over/Under: 62, Spread: Auburn (-15)
There are a few tough bets in Week 1, but the matchup between Auburn and Washington State is a gambler’s dream. The SEC style defense of the Tigers will make sure the under is a safe bet, but the talented offense of the Cougars will keep them within the spread. Take the under and Washington State with the 15 points.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Dee Ford, DE, Questionable (knee)
Jonathan Jones, DB, Doubtful (knee)
Tony Stevens, WR, Doubtful (hamstring)
Logan Mayes, DL, Questionable (personal)
While neither of these teams were considered much of a threat to contend for a spot in the Top 25 polls, the upgrades each has made during the offseason should be enough to move each up in their respective conference standings.
These programs are still a year or two away from seriously contending in the BCS, but there is little doubt that both Washington State and Auburn will have better teams in 2013.
Auburn Players to Watch: Nick Marshall, QB
The battle between junior college transfer Nick Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson for the starting quarterback job was fierce, but according to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn via CBS Sports, Marshall won the starting job.
Marshall is a talented dual-threat quarterback that will be able to extend the play with his legs or run the ball down the field when necessary. While the new starter must work on his consistency in the passing attack, he has the raw talent to be a dangerous weapon at Auburn.
The biggest question for Marshall will be which wide receivers step up and take advantage of the game plan. Leading receiver Emory Blake is gone, and the door is now wide open for any player willing to step up.
Washington State Player to Watch: Connor Halliday, WR
Cougars head coach Mike Leach told reporters during Pac-12 media days that Connor Halliday was going to be his starter in Week 1, per Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, and the focus from Washington State fans will be how the QB performs against a tough SEC foe.
Leach has implemented his high-paced offense that features a heavy dosage of passing plays. Whether Halliday can thrive under the game plan or falters will be a genuine concern for the coaching staff and the fans.
Halliday has to be a better game manager and avoid turnovers. With only 1,878 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, the junior will be on a short leash as the program continues to implement a winning culture.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Washington State 21
Auburn has the more impressive defensive unit, but it will be the offense of the Tigers that shocks Leach and the Cougars Saturday. While Washington State will make serious strides in 2013, the season will start with a hard-fought loss in Auburn.