TV Schedule: Saturday, September 26, 7:30 p.m., ET, ESPN2
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
Line: AUB (-1.5)
It will be hard for Mississippi State to live up to last year’s historic season. The Bulldogs jumped to a number one ranking for the first time in the school’s history. They started the season unranked and shot to the top of the polls after a stunning win over Auburn in Week 7, the fastest any school had risen to the top in the history of the AP poll. Once they appeared on the polls in Week 4, it only took them four weeks to reach number one.
They also received the first ever number one ranking in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff system. The Bulldogs started their SEC campaign with a win over eighth-ranked LSU, marking their first win over the Tigers since 1999 and the first at Death Valley since 1991.The Bulldogs only lost their top ranking after a loss to fourth-ranked Alabama but finished the season 10-3 and 11th in the AP Poll.
This season has already seen trouble for the Bulldogs who lost to LSU in Week 2 in a rematch of last year’s win. Not even the heralded State tradition of ringing the cowbells could hinder LSU from enacting its revenge. The Bulldogs lost 19-21 at home but have won their two other games against in-state rival Southern Miss and Northwestern State.
Now that the Ole Miss-Alabama rematch is out of the way (Ole Miss won again 43-37, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban is contesting one of Ole Miss’ TDs because of an ineligible OL downfield), this Saturday’s matchup between unranked Mississippi State and Auburn will be the rematch of the season.
Both teams are 2-1. Neither team is ranked despite ending last season in the polls. Auburn pulled down a top 10 recruiting class. Mississippi State returned starting quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Dak Prescott.
Auburn hired recently fired Florida coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator after a defensive slump in the second half of last season that allowed 30 points in seven of their last eight games. Dan Mullen, Head Coach at Mississippi State, worked under Urban Meyer at Florida and tutored Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow.
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is in his third year with the Tigers and led them to an SEC Championship and to the National Title game in his first season as head coach. The Tigers would shockingly lose that game to a Jameis Winston-led Florida State. Also that season, Auburn won the Iron Bowl at Alabama in the most exciting end to a college football game ever.
Auburn recovered a missed field goal and returned it 99 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
Auburn followed up their national title run with a disappointing 8-5 finish, 4-4 in the SEC. After trouncing LSU the week before, Auburn went into the State game ranked #2 nationally and the favorite. No one believed Mississippi State’s success would last past either of Alabama’s teams. But then the unthinkable happened.
Auburn lost 23-38 and floundered defensively the rest of the season.
This season has been marked by quarterback struggles after barely surviving in overtime against Jacksonville State. The near-loss to an FCS team dropped the Tigers to 318 in the polls, a ranking they only kept for a week. Last week, they lost to a 13th-ranked LSU 21-45 behind powerhouse running back Leonard Fournette.
After a poor showing offensively, Malzahn decided to promote backup quarterback Sean White to the starting position. This will be White’s first start as a college player after a redshirt freshman season and playing backup to Jeremy Johnson. White will be eager to prove himself in order to keep his new job.
Also eager to prove himself is Muschamp after the defense seemed powerless against LSU’s running game. Thankfully, State prefers the spread option but could make some adjustments after watching film from Auburn’s Week 3 loss.
The Bulldogs are hoping to show that last season wasn’t a fluke; Auburn wants to prove last season was. But with the game at Auburn, expect the Tigers to come out on top in a close game.
Prediction: Auburn 28, Mississippi State 26