Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team will get a rare opportunity at redeeming their 2017 campaign in the last three weeks of the season – home matchups with the current No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.
Georgia and Alabama go one-two in the year’s first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday evening. A week off for the Tigers slated them at No. 14 in the initial standings.
Auburn began the year at No. 12 in the AP Top 25. Malzahn’s annual offensive struggles doomed Auburn to a loss to Clemson and a scare against Mercer, however redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham and company bounced back to trounce their first three SEC opponents by a combined score of 144-47.
Then-No. 12 Auburn’s 44-23 rout of Ole Miss had it all for the streaking Tigers – Kerryon Johnson’s career-high in rushing, the first time in program history Auburn had beaten three straight SEC teams by 30 points, and the team’s best conference start (3-0) since 2010.
The table was neatly set for Auburn to end its 18-year losing streak in Baton Rouge the following week. Ed Orgeron’s upstart LSU club had other plans.
Auburn entered Death Valley at No. 10 in the AP Poll, its highest mark of the season, but tumbled down to the year’s low-point of No. 21 the next day, thanks to a nightmare of a game in which the orange and blue Tigers blew a 20-point first half lead.
A 52-20 road win over a reeling Arkansas squad was the response that Auburn needed, as the offense showcased an onslaught of diverse playcalls in the second half – an Achille’s heel at LSU.
No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Clemson round out the first-look into the possible playoff picture. Notre Dame’s only loss came in Week 2 to Georgia in South Bend, 20-19.
Ohio State, which most recently knocked off then-No. 2 Penn State, lies in wait at the No. 6 spot. Ohio State’s lone loss, 7-1 Oklahoma, sits at No. 5.
The Southeastern Conference, despite experiencing a “down year,” is well represented in the rankings, with five teams in total: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 14 Auburn, No. 16 Mississippi State and No. 19 LSU.
Auburn’s month-long stint away from Jordan-Hare concludes this Saturday against Texas A&M in College Station. The Aggies were most recently slaughtered by Mississippi State at Kyle Field last Saturday, 35-14.
Both Auburn and Texas A&M will be tinkering with new offensive approaches in the 11 a.m. showdown. Against the Bulldogs, the Aggies lost QB1 Kellen Mond in the fourth quarter. Week 1 starter Nick Starkel played well in Mond’s absence, however.
Malzahn announced Tuesday morning that tailback Kamryn Pettway, who rushed for a trio of scores against Arkansas, has suffered a fractured scalpula and is out indefinitely. Fellow runningback Kerryon Johnson has been tearing up SEC play while Pettway has been plagued with the injury bug.
“The positive is that [Johnson] is one of the best running backs in our league and you see the confidence he is playing at right now,” Malzahn said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We have other guys we feel good about, too, that are going to be big down the stretch right now.”
Despite the ups and downs of the 2017 season, Auburn still controls its own destiny. If the Tigers can cover the spread against the two wolves closest to the sled – Texas A&M and No. 1 Georgia, both contests in which Auburn is an early favorite in Vegas – the Iron Bowl will be for the SEC West.
The last and only time that an Iron Bowl decided the winner of the Western division was in 2013 in Jordan-Hare. If Auburn can meet the Tide at Pat-Dye Field unscathed through the Aggies and Bulldogs, a Top 10, likely instant classic would be in the cards, again.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS (Oct. 31, 2017)
3. Notre Dame
6. Ohio State
7. Penn State
11. Oklahoma State
13. Virginia Tech
15. Iowa State
16. Mississippi State
20. NC State
24. Michigan State
25. Washington State