We are under a week away from the kickoff between the No. 22 Auburn Tigers of the SEC and the Arkansas State Red Wolves of the Sun Belt at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
Auburn has been named 31-point favorites for this game, but recent history has shown not to take Arkansas State lightly. In 2008, they opened the season with a shocking 18-14 win at Texas A&M.
Last season, they furiously rallied in the fourth quarter and were close to knocking off eventual Orange Bowl champion Iowa, falling 24-21. They finished 4-8 on the season, 3-5 in Sun Belt play, but were close to beating UL-Monroe, UL-Lafayette, and Louisville, and being bowl-eligible.
Auburn went 8-5, also going 3-5 in conference play, but the 3-5 record didn't show the improvement overall Auburn had made. Gene Chizik, entering his second season, brought in the fourth-ranked recruiting class in America and had enough offseason success to earn a preseason Top 25 ranking in both major polls.
Arkansas State had the top defense in the Sun Belt last season, but still struggled to stop the best offenses they played, giving up 507 yards to Troy, 494 to Nebraska (Whose offense was sometimes painful to watch in 2009), 420 to Iowa and 427 to Middle Tennessee State.
Auburn's defense wasn't exactly stingy either because of a lack of depth, and outside of Josh Bynes, they had no true playmakers. They gave up 625 yards to Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, but intercepted five passes. They also gave up 509 yards to West Virginia, but used six turnovers to beat the Mountaineers, 41-30.
The Auburn defense now has much more depth and talent at vital points, namely linebacker. Not to mention Auburn is implementing a new 3-4 scheme this season.
With new stars Cameron Newton, Michael Dyer, and Trovon Reed on offense, the Tigers offense should basically live in the end zone this season.
But Arkansas State brings in a defense that was tops in the SBC last season, and they also have a no-huddle scheme on offense...which could actually be good for the Tigers, because many of the plays could be similar to the ones they have faced in practice in the spring and this past month.
My prediction: No. 22 Auburn 55, Arkansas State 14
Auburn offense: 576 total yards Arkansas State offense: 241 total yards
Auburn: 27 first downs Arkansas State: 12 first downs
Auburn rush yards: 331 Arkansas State: 96
Auburn pass yards: 245 Arkansas State: 145
Auburn leading passer: C. Newton: 23/34, 194 yards, 3 TD Arkansas State: R. Aplin 19/40, 145 yards, TD, 2 INT
Auburn leading rusher: O. McCalebb: 18 rushes, 141 yards, TD Arkansas State: D. Lawson: 23 rush, 59 yards, TD
Auburn leading reciever: D. Adams: 7 catches, 101 yards, TD Arkansas State: A. Muse: 5 catches, 71 yards
It's Over When: A 47-yard TD run by Onterio McCalebb puts Auburn up 17-0 in the second quarter, which is "that score" that shows it's gonna get ugly.
Stat of the Game: Two. Two is the number of years in a row AU has opened the season with two running backs topping 100 yards rushing. McCalebb has 141 yards, and Fannin adds 104.
I respect Arkansas State and their program, and we'll gladly welcome any Arkansas State fans that visit the Plains and show them the greatest experience they have ever had at a road game...until 6:00.
Most fans feel that this is a mismatch. The talent is too great at Auburn, there's going to be 87,451 people there (most wearing orange and rooting against the Red Wolves). Arkansas State could stay in it early, but this one should be over by halftime.
Auburn starts 1-0 heading into the Thursday night tilt at Mississippi State.