We are still more than two weeks from the season’s first Southeastern Conference football game, but it is never too early to look at the matchups that will factor into the national championship race. Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com did exactly that earlier today when he posted the “Ten SEC Games That Will Affect the Playoff.”
Mr. Aschoff presents his list chronologically, beginning with the LSU season opener against Wisconsin on August 30 in Houston, and following with the de facto SEC East Championship Game September 13 in Columbia, South Carolina. Then, LSU makes its second appearance, and Auburn appears for the first of five times – which is more than any other team in the conference.
Here, we take a look at Aschoff’s observations of each game – which are presented in block quotes – and add some thoughts of our own.
3. LSU at Auburn, Oct. 4: Even though Auburn lost this game last season, it changed the dynamic of the team’s season. The fight and comeback they had in the second half injected an incredible amount of confidence into an Auburn team that ran all the way to the final BCS title game. Could this game have the same affect for either squad in 2014? With the upcoming schedules both of these teams have, a loss here could throw off their playoff plans.
When these two teams met in late September last season, the result didn’t really register on a national scale. Auburn was 3-0 and had beaten Mississippi State in dramatic fashion the week before. However, the Tigers had yet to put a complete game together, and they were still struggling to find their identity on offense.
The LSU Tigers, on the other hand, were ranked sixth in the nation. When LSU jumped up 14-0 and 35-14 it was no shock. However, as Aschoff mentioned, the game was a bit of a turning point for Auburn that gave them momentum towards an SEC title.
During the subsequent off week, the coaching staff retooled the offense and decided take pressure off Nick Marshall in the passing game. He threw 33 passes against LSU in the loss (after attempting 34 against Mississippi State the previous week), but tossed only 136 more passes the rest of the season. Marshall also became a more dangerous runner, with 920 of his 1,068 rushing yards coming after the LSU matchup.
Looking ahead to October 4, 2014, both teams should be ranked, and Auburn is likely to be favored. The game is at Jordan-Hare and the Auburn Tigers have a large experience advantage, and should come out on top.
5. South Carolina at Auburn, Oct. 25: Another game involving the defending SEC champs, and this one will be very important for both teams. Each should be right at or near the top of their respective divisions just before the final month of the season, meaning this game is important for both the playoff and the SEC. Expect a lot of points with two teams that averaged more than 30 points a game last season and have some defensive unknowns. You want to enter November controlling your own destiny.
Sandwiched between these games on Aschoff’s list is the Ole Miss-Alabama game. When the Tigers host South Carolina on October 25, they will be coming off a bye week, which should be an advantage. South Carolina will have a game the week before, but it will be a homecoming matchup with Furman, so the Gamecocks should be nearly as well rested.
The impact this game will have on the College Football Playoff is interesting, because of the SEC’s recent history of dominance. An 11-1 record without a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship could still make the winner of this game a prime candidate to land in the playoff, even if they fail to win their respective division.
6. Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1: If both of are undefeated when the Tigers arrive in the Grove, this game will have major playoff implications. Even if they aren’t, the SEC Western Division will still be on the line, and we all know the eventual SEC champion will be an almost lock to make it in the playoff. The playoff picture will be much clearer when these two meet, and as the season ticks down, you want to control your own destiny.
“If both teams are undefeated” may sound ridiculous on the surface, but if Ole Miss is going to make a jump into the SEC West’s upper echelon, 2014 is the year to do it. The Rebels have a stout defense and the league’s most experienced quarterback behind center.
At this point, Auburn will have played in the first three of six “SEC Games to affect the Playoff.” The Tigers will also be in the midst of a brutal stretch of games that many believe will cost the Tigers a chance to repeat as SEC Champions or make it to playoff. If Ole Miss is still in the hunt for the SEC West, this game will be as difficult for Auburn as any on the schedule. However, the Rebels have a way of falling below expectations.
9. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15: We all know how last season’s game ended. One bat down, and Auburn’s Cinderella story is short-lived. You know the Dawgs have this game circled on their calendar. It’s another game that could have SEC title implications, and of course that means it will affect the playoff with the season winding down. A loss for Auburn would likely end its playoff chances, while a win for a Georgia team in the East hunt would do wonders.
After the Tigers play Ole Miss, the Alabama-LSU and South Carolina-Florida games are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, according to Aschoff. It will be South Carolina’s third and final appearance on the list, which is the second most to Auburn’s five. No wonder everyone has been talking about how difficult the Tigers’ schedule is this season.
As for the game against Georgia, the Bulldogs have been seeing red since last year’s prayer was answered, and they will have plans for revenge. The matchup is nearly identical to the game with South Carolina three weeks earlier. Both teams should be in the hunt for a division title, and possibly the national title, but neither team is an odds on favorite to make it to Atlanta. A loss will sting for both teams, but it shouldn’t be a death knell for either.
10. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29: The Iron Bowl changed the landscape of the BCS title game last season and we have no reason to believe it won’t have an impact on this year’s College Football Playoff. Remember the “Kick Six?” Well, you better believe Alabama does. The Crimson Tide gets its archrival at home this year and Saban is 8-1 at Alabama in revenge games. The loser of this game will be without bragging rights and a playoff spot.
And finally at number ten, the biggest game of the year regardless of playoff implications. The stakes were bigger last year than another in the history of the series from a national championship standpoint. It is hard to imagine that this season’s could top it. However, if 2013 taught us anything, it is that anything can happen in college football as a whole, and in the Iron Bowl in particular.
Tags: Auburn Tigers