The Auburn Tigers‘ hurry-up offense came back quickly when head coach Gus Malzahn returned to the plains of Auburn in December. Auburn fans have been asking whether a bowl berth could come just as quickly after a winless SEC regular season in 2012.
Auburn’s week 3 matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs will probably be the answer to that question. The game will be the determining factor as to which of these two teams will play in the postseason.
The Bulldogs travel to Auburn with one blemish on their record, while Auburn is currently undefeated, posting a 38-9 win last weekend vs. Arkansas State. Auburn has dominated the series, going 8-2 the last 10 meetings. Mississippi State beat Auburn 28-10 last season in Dan Mullen’s first SEC West win ever, other than his three wins in the Egg Bowl.
For Mississippi State to get to their fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history, a healthy starting running back La’Darius Perkins and starting quarterback Tyler Russell are musts.
Both Perkins and Russell didn’t appear in Saturday’s Alcorn State game, but both have a high probability of playing this weekend. Russell suffered a concussion in Week 1 facing Oklahoma State. His backup Dak Prescott threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start in a 51-7 Bulldogs victory.
Russell would give the Dogs a better chance as a pure pocket passer to pull out a win on Saturday as Auburn is giving up 400 or more yards a game, even though the Tigers’ defense is ranked 22nd overall in total defense.
Schedule-wise, Mississippi State hosts Troy, Bowling Green and Kentucky at home, and play South Carolina, Texas A&M and Arkansas on the road. Dates with top-25 opponents LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss would be nothing more than tough and unrealistic steals for State.
Mullen has never beaten a top-25 team in his already five-year tenure at Mississippi State. A Saturday win is virtually the Bulldogs’ only chance for postseason play. At 1-1, State wouldn’t just have to beat Troy, Bowling Green and Kentucky, but also sneak out with a potential upset along the way.
Arkansas would be a possible chance on Nov. 23, picked last in the West at the start of the year, but the past may say otherwise. The Razorbacks have never lost a meeting with the Bulldogs at home since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992.
Auburn must win here, as they play five top 25 opponents the rest of the way. It would be very surprising for a first-year quarterback in the SEC to beat either LSU or Texas A&M in his first couple of road trips. Home games with Ole Miss and top-ten ranked Alabama and Georgia leave poor outlooks. Take out Auburn’s 2010 special season, and you have to go back to 2007 since Auburn has beat one of either Georgia or Alabama.
Gus Malzahn and his team have dates with West Carolina and Florida Atlantic, both easy wins. A win against Mississippi State would put the Tigers a win away from bowl eligibility.
Auburn has tough pick’ em games on the road with Arkansas and Tennessee. Auburn has only beat Arkansas once since Tommy Tuberville’s departure after the 2008 season. The Tigers’ last two games with Tennessee have both been wins, but decided by four or less points.
Auburn hasn’t seen their quarterback Nick Marshall get out and make plays yet. Marshall should do better than Kiehl Frazier‘s -2 passing yards at halftime and three total picks against Mississippi State last season. In the last four meetings of Mississippi State-Auburn, the winner has gone to a bowl game, a trend that’s expected to continue in 2013.