AUBURN, Ala. – I count at least 18 games worth watching Saturday. Gotta love college football on Saturday.
There’s really no understating the importance of tomorrow’s matinee at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You wanna argue Arkansas’ season is already a lost cause even with a road victory, that’s fine, but Auburn really, really needs this game. Because with a loss, the Tigers drop to three under .500 with two road games immediately looming … and the home schedule gets no easier. In fact, it gets much, much more challenging.
Huge, season-defining game tomorrow. No wonder Gene Chizik begged the fans to replicate their LSU performance. Two thoughts on that: it ain’t happening when the team’s performance caused this to be labeled an 11 a.m. local kickoff, and the best way to engage the crowd is make big plays early and often.
Five X-Factors when the Razorbacks have the ball
#8 Tyler Wilson, 6-3, 220, sr., QB and #11 Cobi Hamilton, 6-3, 209, sr., WR, Arkansas. If for some reason my column wasn’t blunt enough, here it is: if the Tigers slow the Cobi Express, this should be an easy win. If Wilson and Hamilton go off, Arkansas would have to massively screw up otherwise to lose. I don’t see a lot of in-between. This is the most vital individual X-Factor I’ve seen in any Auburn game this year.
#11 Chris Davis, 5-11, 200, jr., CB, Auburn. Haven’t heard your name much this year, Mr. Davis, though part of that is the rotation at corner with Jon Mincy and T-Bell. If Davis does play 50-plus snaps Saturday, he’ll be doing his job by maintaining anonymity. By the way, Auburn DBs, it’s not against the law to catch passes thrown by the other team.
#69 David Hurd, 6-6, 300, jr., LT, Arkansas. You see that freight train coming in from right end? That would be Corey Lemonier. Speaking of anonymity, Hurd is tasked with capping the number of times Rod Blamblett screeches, “and there goes Lemonier AGAIN into the backfield!”
#21 Jonathan Jones, 5-10, 166, fr., ST, Auburn. Outside the box, yes. This is a nod to Arky kick returner Dennis Johnson, one of the best in the business. Cody Parkey might just boot the ball out of the end zone best he can, but if Johnson – the SEC’s career kickoff return yardage recordholder – does get a hold of one, nothing changes a game for a road underdog like explosive special teams. Since fellow rookie Ricardo Louis will probably be focusing on playing slot receiver and/or punt returner, the job of gunner is left to the young and speedy Jones.
Five X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball
#12 Jonathan Wallace, 6-2, 197, fr., QB, Auburn. Welcome to the column, J-Wall. The guess here is 14 snaps for the freshman Saturday. Wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the over. Whether he was actually running it or handing off, that package worked two weeks ago, and Arkansas’ run defense ain’t exactly LSU.
#23 Onterio McCalebb, 5-11, 173, sr. and #21 Tre Mason, 5-10, 198, so. … RBs, Auburn. Establish the run. Establish the run. Establish the run.
#45 Alonzo Highsmith, 6-1, 233, sr., MLB, Arkansas. He makes lots of tackles.
#26 Rohan Gaines, 5-11, 190, fr., S, Arkansas. So does he. Look, there’s not much to work with on Arkansas’ defense. Work with me here.
Three players you should watch since I can’t be at every game Saturday
#23 Mike Gillislee, 5-11, 209, sr., RB, Florida. You know what hurts? Losing something you wanted when you felt you were that close to getting it, and realizing regret in the aftermath. (Deep, I know.) You know what hurts worse? Ouchy groins. Gillislee has one of those problems on his plate right now. It’s not the one Florida fans care about.
#3 Todd Gurley, 6-1, 218, fr., RB, Georgia. Yeah, and Keith Marshall too. That’s 12 feet, 434 pounds and 36 years of running back goodness. Freshmen aren’t supposed to be that advanced, size-wise.
#12 Geno Smith, 6-3, 214, sr., QB, West Virginia. I would make some stupid statement along the lines of “He definitely will NOT throw for 656 yards tomorrow” … except I have no confidence in such bombastic guarantees. Who knows in this era of college football.
Saturday’s Main Events (all times ET)
Arkansas Razorbacks at Auburn Tigers, 12 p.m. ESPN2
More I think about this game, more I believe Tyler Wilson can win this game by himself. In home field I trust. That, and Arkansas finding ways to give Kiehl Frazier short fields to work with via turnovers.
Brenner picks: Tigers 31, Razorbacks 28
No. 24 Northwestern Wildcats at Penn State Nittany Lions, 12 p.m. ESPN
Plenty of storylines here. Northwestern basketball hogs the headlines locally (even if calling Northwestern a drop in the bucket of Chicago sports coverage is being kind), but the football team is ranked for the first time in over three years. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are rolling since their two-game swoon to open the year. For Auburn fans watching on TV, just flip one channel down to ESPN during halftime and timeouts to check on this game’s progress.
Brenner picks: Nittany Lions 24, Wildcats 21
Looks very much like the Longhorns left Stillwater with that look of getting away with something. The Football Gods, as Bill Simmons likes to say, don’t smile kindly on these kinds of things. Of course, West Virginia’s defense is nothing to smile at. Which fits right in to its new conference.
Brenner picks: Mountaineers 42, Longhorns 38
No. 21 Nebraska Cornhuskers at No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes
Oh, hello there, defense. Good to see you still exist somewhere in the world. Is this the ultimate Urban Meyer ‘world against us’ season?
Brenner picks: Buckeyes 20, Cornhuskers 15
No. 4 LSU Tigers at No. 10 Florida Gators, 3:30 p.m. CBS
This one’s not a bad defensive battle, either. You wonder about Zach Mettenberger’s ability to win a game in the swamp. This game hinges on how much the Tigers learned from the Auburn game – maybe they overlooked Auburn a bit, and obviously Florida’s a superior team, but the Gators certainly will make LSU pay for dumb transgressions.
Brenner picks: Gators 27, Tigers 20
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs at No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks, 7 p.m., ESPN
Even though you figure Georgia’s taking these games one at a time – as well it should – the Bulldogs are going to be hard-pressed to escape every one of these tough challenges with defensive lapses and costly turnovers. With the SEC East on the line, Connor Shaw, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor will make the plays necessary for a victory.
Brenner picks: Gamecocks 31, Bulldogs 17
@Syracuse 30, Pitt 28 (Friday). When’s basketball season start?
No. 20 Mississippi State 27, @Kentucky 10. Tyler Russell is the picture of stability in a game like this. Potential UK hangover after giving South Carolina a tussle.
@Air Force 31, Navy 10. Falcons have been money in Colorado Springs.
Virginia Tech 24, @North Carolina 21. Upset pick. Frank Beamer teams are too good to let this season slip away. Both teams a little banged up.
@Texas Tech 34, No. 17 Oklahoma 31. Upset pick, remix. Red Raiders haven’t played anybody on their way to a 4-0 mark, but back-to-back home games against top-20 squads should bring out the best in a confident bunch.
Louisiana-Monroe 37, @Middle Tennessee 30. Rise of the Sun Belt! ULM just scheduled a 2014 date with LSU, capitalizing on the rise of a mid-major’s notoriety.
Michigan 31, @Purdue 30. Hey, remember when Denard Robinson was the fresh squeeze?
@Missouri 44, Vanderbilt 10. No reason for Mizzou not to finally knock off its first SEC foe here.
Texas A&M 34, @Ole Miss 30. Chance for the SEC newbies to sweep this weekend.
@No. 9 Notre Dame 27, Miami 16. Is college football better when Notre Dame’s good? You be the judge. Manti Te’o is fun.
@No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 23 Washington 19. Won’t be many chances for that No. 2 spot to open up for somebody else, and this is a slight opportunity at best.
Last week: 8-2
Track record: 32-20
That’s it for the Pep Talk. Now here’s your chance to get back on the horse, because you can’t afford to lose again.