The SEC West title race gets going this Saturday with a meeting between two division title hopefuls when No. 8 Auburn visits No. 17 Texas A&M in the first game of an SEC on CBS doubleheader.
It’s far too early in the season to be throwing around terms like “elimination game,” but the Tigers and Aggies are both talented enough to play disruptor and beat anyone in the division on a given Saturday. However, given the daunting remaining slate for both teams, it does seem unlikely that the loser of this weekend’s meeting in College Station will be able to make a run at finishing the season in Atlanta as the championship game representative for the SEC West.
Prior to last season’s thrilling 28-24 Auburn win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the visiting team had won every matchup in the series since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012. That was the first meeting between Gus Malzahn and Jimbo Fisher since the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. But the connections between these two staffs go deep, with Texas A&M wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig not only ranking among the best quarterbacks in Auburn history but doing so while playing alongside Patrick Nix, the father of Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix.
Texas A&M: Because Texas A&M faces one of the toughest schedules in the country, experts have assumed there is some ceiling to what the Aggies can accomplish in the standings in 2019. But a 24-10 loss at No. 1 Clemson should not dissuade Texas A&M fans from feeling like they have a chance to finish the year as one of the top-ranked teams in the SEC. It’s not just Kellen Mond and breakout freshman running Isaiah Spiller that has Texas A&M fans excited, it’s mostly the improvements at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. On offense, it’s the Maroon Goons — who average a school record 318.2 pounds per lineman — paving the way for the ground game. On defense, the play of that front has led Texas A&M, ranking among the best rushing defenses in the country through three weeks. Even with the nation’s toughest schedule, those kind of fundamentals are going to keep Texas A&M in striking distance against every opponent.
Auburn: This is the first true road game for Nix, and while some would rather such a test come later in the year, this game actually serves as a warm-up for arguably tougher road trips down the road. Before Auburn spends the entire month of November in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium, Nix and the Tigers travel to face No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 9 Florida, Arkansas and No. 4 LSU. Through three games this season, we’ve seen Nix be a much better quarterback in the second half of games, but it’s going to take four quarters of poise and production to be able to guide Auburn to wins in these tough road situations.
Game prediction, picks
I think these are two evenly-matched teams from a talent standpoint, and the oddsmakers seem to agree with their decision to make the Aggies slightly more than a field goal favorite. When you factor in the home field advantage of Kyle Field, that tells me this game is a toss-up, and it’s a toss-up game that I think Malzahn and his freshman quarterback can go and win. If I think the Tigers are going to keep this close all the way through, give me the points. Pick: Auburn (+4.5)