Auburn at Mississippi State: Game Day Prediction


Sep 14, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers wide receiver Quan Bray (4) celebrates his touchdown in the first half against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports


Auburn at Mississippi State.

After talking about it all week, it is finally game day. ESPN GameDay, in fact, as the Auburn Tigers travel to Starkville to challenge the Mississippi State Bulldogs in an SEC clash of teams ranked in the top three in the polls. The Worldwide Leader’s pre-game bonanza will be on the scene for the very first time, and the locals are treating it like the Super Bowl.

No. 2 Auburn comes into this week’s Game of the Century with a 5-0 record, including a 2-0 mark in conference play. The Tigers received 23 first place votes in the most recent AP rankings, and come in just two total points behind No. 1 Florida State. The No. 3 Bulldogs are also 5-0, including two wins in conference play, and have two first place votes of their own. MSU is forced to share their spot in the AP Top 25 with bitter in-state rival Ole Miss.

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The Tigers have disposed of Arkansas, San Jose State, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech and LSU by an average score of 42-14. Similarly, Mississippi State has skated through Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M by an impressive average of 43-19.

History is on Auburn’s side with a 61-24-2 record in the series, including 2013’s 24-20 thriller at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But of course none of those previous games matters today. When the game kicks off at 2:30PM local time, the crowd will be cheering, the cowbells will be ringing, and two talented teams will be prepared to duke it out for a pivotal SEC West victory.

In what is truly the marquee quarterback matchup of the 2014 season to date, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Auburn’s Nick Marshall are currently the top two favorites to win the Heisman Trophy at 2-to-1 and 5-to-2, respectively, according to online sports book Bovada.

Prescott’s early season numbers of 1,223 passing yards, 455 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns through the first five games of the season compare favorable to award winning QBs of recent memory, including Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. Marshall doesn’t have the raw numbers that Prescott does, but he’s thrown for 755 yards, run for 392 and scored 12 total touchdowns.

Both teams have strong rushing attacks, aided by their dual threat quarterbacks, but with sturdy running backs carrying the bulk of the load. Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne and MSU’s Josh Robinson are both averaging 118 rushing yards per game. Robinson has scored six times, and Artis-Payne has five TDs. They’re about as evenly matched a pair of starters as you’ll find, and State’s Brandon Holloway and Auburn’s Corey Grant both offer great speed as backups.

The receiving units are very similar as well. Both teams offer a pair of playmakers and considerable depth. The stars for Auburn are Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams, both with good size and speed. The Bulldogs counter with an even bigger target in De’Runnya Wilson, and the shifty Jameon Lewis, if he is healthy enough to play. All four appear destined to play on Sundays.

Neither offensive line is perfect, but both are led by veteran centers. The Tigers have a slight edge on overall talent on the offensive line, but it’s the Bulldogs that are marginally better along the defensive front.

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  • State’s Preston Smith has been one of the best defenders in the SEC this season, and Chris Jones is an All-American candidate. However, both units have been phenomenal stopping opponent’s running games. The Bulldogs’ defense leads the SEC in sacks, but their offensive line has allowed more than three times as many as the Tigers.

    At linebacker, Mississippi State boasts one of the best in the nation in Benardrick McKinney, and the unit is deep with Beniquez Brown, Christian Holmes, Matthew Wells and reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week Richie Brown. Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are just as active as McKinney, and hybrid defensive back/linebacker Robenson Therezie is one of the SEC’s top playmakers.

    In the secondary, MSU has slightly better corners, but Auburn has the edge at the safety position. Statistically speaking, the Tigers actually have a big edge in pass defense since Mississippi State ranks dead last in the SEC in yards allowed per game. However, the Bulldogs have made up for it in interceptions, snagging nine.

    As you can see, the offenses and the defenses match up extremely well with one another. If there is an edge on one unit, the opponent holds the opposite one. Otherwise, they are as evenly matched as two teams can be. That is, until you look at the special teams units.

    Simply put, Mississippi State struggles with field goals. The Bulldogs have only two this season in four attempts, and both came within 30 yards. Auburn, on the other hand, is 7-for-9. Both teams have good punters, but Auburn’s Quan Bray has returned two punts for touchdowns already this season. If there is an edge to be had between the two teams, it’s in the kicking game – and Auburn’s got it.

    The Vegas line has held pretty steady between three and 2.5 points, with Auburn as the favorite. That means a field goal could decide it. Since Auburn’s got the edge there, I’ve got to go with the Tigers.

    Auburn 34, Mississippi State 31