Week One: Auburn vs. Clemson Preview and Prediction


Who: #25 Auburn Tigers vs. #14 Clemson Tigers

When: 6:00 p.m. CT (ESPN)

Where: Atlanta, GA (Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game)

All-Time Series Record: Auburn leads 34-12-2

Most recent meeting: Clemson 38, Auburn 24 (2011)

It’s almost here.

The grills are ready to be fired up. The RVs are already making their way to campuses across the country, trying to find an excellent parking and tailgating spot. Fans are already preparing their tents, flags, chairs, tables and flat-screen TVs. Soon, the smell of tailgating will be in the air. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the smell of college football.

And with college football comes Auburn Tiger football. The Tigers kick off the 2012 season where they ended last year’s season, facing the defending ACC champion Clemson Tigers at the Georgia Dome in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. This is one of the biggest games of the opening weekend of college football.

Auburn and Clemson are known for being similar. Similar campuses, similar fans, similar towns, similar monikers, you name it. Heading into 2012, these teams have another thing in common: a desire for respect. Auburn looks to regain respect after some really ugly play the year after winning the BCS National Championship. Clemson looks to regain respect after starting 8-0 last season but finishing just 2-4 in the final six games, including an  embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Something’s got to give in this game. The winner will climb the rankings and immediately be on the radar to the rest of the country, while the loser will have to have a great season in conference play to stay relevant.

After a long, harsh offseason, it’s once again time for college football. Without further adieu, I present to you a breakdown of the Auburn-Clemson game.

Key for Auburn: DEFENSE. Brian VanGorder was hired to fix the Auburn defense after three years of average-to-terrible defense. In three years, Auburn held only one opponent to under 200 yards of offense under Ted Roof. Out of 40 opponents, only one couldn’t cross the 200-yard mark. Auburn’s defense will have to show how much they’ve improved right off the bat, as this Clemson offense is one of the best in the country, even if Sammy Watkins is suspended. With Tahj Boyd and Andre Ellington, this offense has the ability to score and score a lot if Auburn’s defense isn’t careful. Auburn’s offense should be good enough against a very average Clemson defense to put up some points, so it’ll be up to the defense to see if Auburn can start the season 1-0.

Key for Clemson: The offensive line must play well. Auburn’s defensive line might be overwhelming for the Clemson offensive line. Auburn is eight-deep on the defensive line, including preseason All-American Corey Lemonier at defensive end. If this Clemson offense is going to match the productivity of Auburn’s offense, they’re going to have to find a way to give Tahj Boyd time to throw. Andre Ellington is a great running back, but he’s going to need some holes to run through. If the Auburn defensive line overpowers Clemson’s offensive line, this game could get away from Clemson.

Auburn player to watch: Kiehl Frazier. Many people still have doubts about Frazier’s ability. You can’t blame them, as most of Frazier’s snaps in 2011 were runs. When he got the chance to pass, he wasn’t impressive. It shouldn’t be too hard to pay attention to Frazier in this game. This game should tell just how good Kiehl Frazier is, seeing as he’s going against a Clemson defense that has many upper-classmen, is better-coached than last year but still has obvious flaws.

Clemson player to watch: DeAndre Hopkins. With Watkins gone, Hopkins will be the go-to guy for Tahj Boyd, and he is a very good wide receiver. He caught passes for almost 1,000 yards last season with five touchdowns. A year ago, while Watkins had his breakout game against Auburn, Hopkins himself caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown to help the purple Tigers end the national champions’ 17-game winning streak. If Clemson finds some trouble getting consistent yardage on the ground, even with great running back Andre Ellington, Boyd will start looking for Hopkins. Auburn must make sure to lock DeAndre down.

Whose defense will rise to the occasion?: Both Auburn and Clemson struggled on defense last season. It’s no surprise that when they met each other in Death Valley, the teams combined for well over 1,000 yards of total offense. Because of these struggles, both teams brought in new coordinators. Auburn grabbed Brian VanGorder from the Falcons and Clemson hired Brent Venables, who served as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma for 13 years.

Auburn vs. Clemson edges:

Quarterback: Clemson

Running back: Auburn

Wide receiver: Auburn (This would be in Clemson’s favor if Sammy Watkins were playing.)

Tight end: Auburn

Offensive line: Auburn

Defensive line: Auburn

Linebackers: Clemson

Cornerbacks: Auburn

Safeties: Clemson

Kicker: Auburn

Punter: Auburn

Coaching: Auburn

Interesting facts: Auburn has won 14 of the last 15 games against Clemson…. Auburn has won their past four games at the Georgia Dome by an average score of 40-22. One of these wins was a 23-20 win over Clemson in the 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl…. Auburn is 2-0 all-time when playing Clemson at the Georgia Dome…. The SEC is 3-1 in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, with Alabama beating Clemson in 2008 and Virginia Tech in 2009, LSU beating North Carolina in 2010 and Georgia losing to Boise State in 2011. The SEC teams that have played in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game have combined for a 47-8 record, three SEC Championship Game appearances, an SEC championship and a national championship…. This game is the 7th time Clemson has opened the season away from home since 1974. They are just 1-5 in the past six, including a 34-10 loss to Alabama in the 2008 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game that saw the Tigers get out-rushed by the Tide 239-0….

Prediction: This should be a very exciting game to start the season. Auburn and Clemson are pretty evenly-matched. Both schools are close to Atlanta so the crowd will be huge and electric, with Auburn fans in blue and Clemson fans in orange. Both teams will be wearing their home uniforms (according to WarBlogle.com). I see this being a very back-and-forth game, so much so that I see it being tied in the final quarter, but in the end, Auburn will make the necessary plays on both sides of the ball to get a huge victory.

Auburn Tigers 34, Clemson Tigers 24

Other SEC predictions:

#9 South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 24 (OT)

Texas A&M 31, Louisiana Tech 23

NC State 33, Tennessee 31

#2 Alabama 27, #8 Michigan 17

#10 Arkansas 56, Jacksonville State 14

#1 LSU 41, North Texas 0

Mississippi State 45, Jackson State 23

Ole Miss 38, Central Arkansas 7

#23 Florida 35, Bowling Green 3

#6 Georgia 45, Buffalo 10

Missouri 51, Southeast Louisiana 6

Louisville 22, Kentucky 7

Predictions for other notable games:

#13 Michigan State 24, #22 Boise State 17

Georgia Tech 28, #20 Virginia Tech 24

#24 Notre Dame 24, Navy 23

Miami (FL) 30, Boston College 14

#1 USC 63, Hawaii 24

#4 Oklahoma 55, UTEP 27

#5 Oregon 52, Arkansas State 30

Upset Special: Southern Miss 26, #16 Nebraska 21

You know, there’s no better feeling as a college football fan than the day you can set your team’s first game to record on DVR. It also feels pretty good to turn on ESPN and see a commercial for “Dick’s Sporting Goods Kickoff Week.” It’s finally here, folks. War Eagle.