TV Schedule: Saturday, September 5, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Line: Auburn (-10)
The No. 6 ranked Auburn Tigers will head east to face off against the Louisville Cardinals in each team’s season opener on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers are coming off of a disappointing 2014 season where the team was ranked No. 5 in the first poll of the season, but finished 8-5 after a 5-0 start. The Cardinals had a solid first season under new/old head coach Bobby Petrino, as Louisville finished 9-4 in their first season in the ACC.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said the key will be for his team to have the same mindset despite the preseason rankings.
”We have the same approach and I like where our guys are at,” Malzahn said on Tuesday. ”They’re not reading the press and predicting, all this stuff. They’re worried about this first opponent, and they’ve got a good mindset.”
The Tigers will have a new starter under center as Nick Marshall has graduated and moved on to the NFL. Junior Jeremy Johnson stands 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, which earns him a lot of Cam Newton comparisons, but Johnson sees it differently.
“Cam is Cam and not me,” Johnson said at SEC Media Days. “I don’t compare myself to Cam that much.”
To this point in his career, Johnson has completed 57 of 78 attempts for 858 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He has all the physical tools to be a dominant player at the collegiate level, but his success will be determined by the mental part of the game, and how he adapts.
Johnson will have one the top wide receivers in the country to throw to as long as Duke Williams stays out of trouble. Williams was forced to leave the team to deal with a disciplinary issue earlier in the preseason. Once he returned, Malzahn told Williams he would have to earn his starting job back. One of the starting receiver positions is listed on the depth chart as Williams “or” Tony Stevens. The fact that he’s listed at all shows that Malzahn plans to allow him Williams to be involved on Saturday.
Louisville was hit hard by graduation and players leaving early for the NFL, as Petrino’s team only returns seven starters from last year’s squad. With so many new pieces trying to jell against one of the top teams in the nation, Saturday’s game will be a tough test for Petrino and the Cardinals, but it could also provide the team with an opportunity to progress quickly.
The starting quarterback has yet to be announced for Louisville, as Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon have yet to separate themselves from the pack. According to reports, the decision will likely be made a game-day decision.
Despite losing seven starters on defense, look for the Cardinals to be strong in that area once again, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham turned down a job with the Oakland Raiders. Louisville finished with the no. 6 total defense in 2014, and no. 7 in turnovers forced per game.
In matchups of high-flying offenses against top-notch defenses, I tend to side with the defense, but not in this case. Auburn’s fast-paced offense will be too much for the new-look Cardinals defense, as the Jeremy Johnson era begins on the right foot.
Prediction: Auburn 41, Louisville 21