3:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Auburn -2, Over/Under: 49
A Top-Ten Clash highlights a spectacular Opening Weekend of College Football, as the Sixth-Ranked Washington Huskies battle the Ninth-Ranked Auburn Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, in a clash that is likely to have major repercussions on the College Football Playoff even at this early juncture. All things considered, this is a game of immense importance for not just Washington (10-3, 16th in AP Poll in 2017), but the Pac-12 as a conference, for 2017 was NOT a kind year for the league, and what better way to raise their profile than against one of the more successful programs from the SEC? However, the last time that Chris Petersen’s charges faced a denizen from the Southeastern Conference, they were snuffed out by Alabama in the College Football Playoff, 24-7 defeat in which their Offense was dominated throughout the affair. Granted, that may seem like ancient history at this point, for Starting Quarterback Jake Browning enters his Senior Campaign looking to lead the Huskies to a third consecutive Ten-Win Season, and hopefully a second trip tot he Playoff inside of three years. A bonafide Heisman candidate in 2016, Browning regressed a good deal in 2017, completing 68.5% of his Attempts for 2,719 Yards on 8.1 Yards per Attempt, while tossing Nineteen Touchdowns in comparison to just Five Interceptions. While those statistics certainly lend towards being an efficient Signal-Caller, it’s a far cry from the playmaker that threw a staggering Forty-Three Touchdowns in the previous term. Effectively, this kid went from Gamebreaker to Game Manager in the span of one season. He did however, prove to be a sneaky-good threat with his legs in the Red Zone, rushing for Seven Touchdowns despite only totaling Twenty-Five Yards on Fifty-Six Carries throughout Thirteen Games. With that said, unlike his counterpart (which we’ll get into in just a bit), he figures to receive a good deal help, primarily in the form of one Myles Gaskin (222 CAR, 1,380 YDS, 21 TD in 2017), who could very well finish his collegiate career atop of many Washing Rushing Records. The shifty Tailback has rushed for 4,055 Yards and Forty-Five Touchdowns over the past three terms, leaving not far off from the lofty benchmarks set by former Huskie great Napoleon Kaufman. When this kid touches the football, it’s usually fireworks, for Gaskin has averaged an explosive 5.9 Yards per Carry throughout his tenure in Seattle, including a whopping 6.2 last season. Washington also figures to be stellar on the defensive side of the football once again, with nine Starters returning from a unit that relegated the opposition to just 16.1 Points (5th Overall) on 298.8 Total Yards, including 197.2 Yards versus the Pass and another 101.7 Yards against the Run. This was a very opportunistic unit that forced Twenty-Four Turnovers, including Fifteen Interceptions and Nine Recovered Fumbles. Eleven different Huskies registered a Takeaway, with returning Defensive Back JoJo McIntosh (50 TKL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FR in 2017) figuring to be in for a big season.
Meanwhile, Auburn (10-4, 10th in AP Poll in 2017) is no stranger to competing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, though we’d wager that they’d prefer to enjoy a different outcome than the last few times that they’ve set foot at this particular venue. Indeed, in an odd occurrence this will be the Tigers’ third consecutive game played at the neutral site in Atlanta, Georgia; they lost each of the previous two contests, including a 28-7 loss in the SEC Championship Game followed by a 34-27 defeat to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl. Gus Malzahn’s charges look to erase some not-too positive memories on this field despite heading into 2018 with what can only be described as an enigmatic Offense. Last season, the Tigers were effective on this side of the football, scoring 33.9 Points per Game (27th Overall) on 451.6 Total Yards, an attack rooted in an explosive Running Game that oftentimes trampled the opposition to the tune of 218.3 Yards on a healthy 4.8 Yards per Carry. However, while we totally expect Malzahn to cultivate yet another strong ground game, it should be noted that he’ll be forced to do so without the services many of the individuals that made it so effective last year in the first place. First and foremost, Auburn must replace the production of one Kerryon Johnson, who led Southeastern Conference with 1,391 Rushing Yards and Eighteen Touchdowns on 4.9 Yards per Carry. The SEC Offensive Player of the Year carried the brunt of the attack before departing for greener pastures in the NFL where he was selected in the Second Round by the Detroit Lions. With that said, Johnson is far from the only component of the Rushing Attack that will be absent for Saturday’s Opener, for this unit will also be replacing a grand total of FOUR Starting Offensive Linemen, which could very well have a detrimental on the Offense. This doesn’t necessarily spell success (at least in the short term) for Jarrett Stidham, who seems like the lone returning figure of merit on this side of the football. Stidham, a former Baylor Transfer, flourished in his new surroundings last year, completing 66.5% of his Attempts for 3,158 Yards on 8.5 Yards per Attempt, while tossing Eighteen Touchdowns in comparison to Six Interceptions. He also proved adept at making enough plays with his feet (in a scheme that has long featured such a skill) to keep opposing Defenses honest, rushing for 153 Yards and Four more Touchdowns on 103 Carries. However, he will enter Saturday’s showdown against the Huskies far from ideal health, for the Signal-Caller has been battling a shoulder injury suffered in practice. He’s far from the only Tiger that’s banged up at the moment, with a number of his targets in the Receiving Corps occupying space in the Trainer’s Room; both Eli Stove (knee) and Will Hastings (knee) are out for today’s outing with various injuries, while Shedrick Jackson (hamstring) may also be out as well, leaving who Stidham will actually be throwing the ball to anyone’s guess. It may take all of Malzahn’s coaching resourcefulness to coax this unit into a quality performance. What we can expect though is solid play from the Defense, which under new Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele improved immensely last year, allowing just 18.5 Points (12th Overall) on 319.6 Total Yards, including182.6 Yards against the Pass and another 137.0 Yards versus the Run. Linebackers Deshaun Davis (82 TKL, 7.0 TFL, 4.0 SK, 1 PD, 2 FR in 2017) and Darrell Williams (57 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 0.5 SK, 2 FR in 2017) are as active an anyone at their position in the SEC, leading a Run Defense that relegated the opposition to a meager 3.6 Yards per Carry.