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Herbstreit on auburn oregon and other picks


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Oregon built SEC tough, but Auburn built on tough, nasty defense

Posted Aug 30, 2019

Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

By Charles Hollis

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit is usually full of insight and interesting behind-the-scenes details you can’t just get anywhere.

This week he told us Auburn coach Gus Malzahn “has not called the plays for the last three years.” That he was back doing what he does best.

We already knew Malzahn had reclaimed play calling duties, announcing that months ago. But unless you've been stuck in line waiting to buy a Popeyes chicken sandwich you might have missed the Herbstreit scoop because most of us never fell hook, line and sinker the $47 Million Man had given up play calling.

We can debate he sorta did, sorta didn't, but we don't have to disagree over No. 16 Auburn's opener Saturday night in Dallas against No. 11 Oregon. It has to be one of the biggest play calling stages of Malzahn's career.

If Malzahn is on his game, and let's give him his due with the tricks and deception he sets great store in, true freshman quarterback Bo Nix should have a successful debut at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Auburn's offense was mostly inconsistent last season, finished eighth in scoring at 30.9 points per game in the SEC, tenth in rushing (167.5 ypg) and 11th in total offense (389.9).

Getting Nix to run his hurry-up tempo sounds like the right thing to do, since he's been running it since high school.

Nix is a dual-threat gunslinger who could be another Jake Fromm with his arm, composure and ability to pull off some of the crazy stuff his coach will call.

Oregon better be ready for Malzahn's deception because it's coming.

Rhett Lashlee wore the play caller title before Chip Lindsey's arrival. If you believe that. Before Lashlee and Lindsey, Malzahn called the plays from the sideline. His first year was a 12-2 gem, including a 34-31 kick-in-the-gut loss to Florida State in the national championship game.

If Lindsey was indeed running the show two years ago, if you believe that, then Auburn benefited greatly, going 10-4 with back-to-back wins at home against Georgia and Alabama and a trip to Atlanta to play for the SEC title.

Let's say Herbstreit is right and Auburn fans have their Old Play Caller back. The play caller whose first three Auburn teams were 7-1, 4-4 and 2-6 in the SEC. Play calling or not, Auburn's SEC record is 28-20 under Malzahn and that's not getting your $47 million dollars worth.

Beating another Pac-12 team in the opener, then giving Auburn fans an SEC record they can be proud of, will keep Malzahn's critics buttoned up for a while, at least long enough to see if there is a turnaround that looks and feels like a turnaround.

Nix could be the savior but he sure could use a running back. The Tigers return all four of their top rushers last year, but leading rusher Boobee Whitlow, the likely starter against the Ducks, is going to have be much more productive than the 787 he ran for in 2018.

Malzahn says he has six runners who could play Saturday. If this were Tulane or Kent State, the Tigers' next two opponents, maybe six makes sense. Against Oregon, maybe six isn't good. But then he's the play-caller.

A stout running back to go with Nix, who has the offensive line that Jarrett Stidham didn't, should help one of the nation's most disruptive defenses stop what should be one of the nation's most explosive offenses.

No 1,000-yard runner is going to mean another so-so year for the Tigers. With one, whether it's Whitlow or Kam Martin or fill in the blank, Auburn can become a player in the SEC. Without one, you don't even want to go there.

This week's picks:

Auburn vs. Oregon

All that stuff Bo Nix did in high school, like putting up all those passing numbers and leading Pinson Valley to back-to-back

state titles, and how he grew up Auburn because dad was an Auburn quarterback back in the day, doesn't mean a hill of beans unless he does it on the big stage.

Like Saturday against Oregon and its Heisman hopeful quarterback Justin Herbert. You'd rather be Nix going against a Ducks defense that has a lot of experience and speed but doesn't bring Auburn's bling. Herbert has an NFL rep and is surrounded by proven runners CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.

Herbert and the Ducks just don't have Auburn's defensive line of end Marlon Davidson, tackle Derrick Brown, versatile Nick Coe and Big Kat Bryant. And the depth.

Don't buy into how the Pac-12 is soft and the SEC is big league muscle. You'll see Oregon flat out play, maybe even show the 3 1/2-point favored Tigers this is one Pac-12 team the SEC can't handle. Lucky for Malzahn his defense is for real.

Auburn 24, Oregon 20

Duke vs. Alabama

If you're looking for a blowout, even with the beat-up linebacker corps (notably linebacker Dylan Moses) and a couple key players in the doghouse, you'll probably be surprised that 33 1/2-point underdog Duke shows up and makes a game out of this. Maybe for a half anyway.

Under 64-year-old David Cutcliffe, the former Banks coach and Alabama graduate, the Blue Devils are no longer a punching bag. In the last six seasons they've gone 10-4, 9-4, 8-5, 4-8, 7-6 and 8-5, including going to five bowls. The Duke defense -- you won't be able to tell against Tua Tagovailoa and all those weapons he's surrounded by -- should be one of the ACC's best, not that is saying a lot.

The offense is undergoing a makeover with Quentin Harris replacing quarterback Daniel Jones, a first-round draft pick by the Giants, and the wide receivers are mostly new. But the game is about Alabama and the journey to put behind its 28-point loss to Clemson in the national championship game. We all know the offense is dynamic. We don't know if the defense has its mojo back. Duke isn't a good measuring stick for that.

Alabama 48, Duke 17

South Alabama vs. Nebraska

The Jaguars christen Steve Campbell’s second year in Mobile at Nebraska, the only Power 5 school they’ll see this year.

Nebraska with coach Scott Frost gets a lot of media hugs as the anointed one in Lincoln. After a pair of 4-8 seasons, including a 0-6 start last year, the Cornhuskers for some strange reason wound up ranked 24th in the AP preseason poll. They are expected to contend in the Big 12. That's contend, not win.

South dropped five of its last six games to go 3-8 last season and is a 36-point underdog. The good news is the $1.2M check USA will get. Cornhusker fans are really, really gracious too.

Campbell is breaking in a starting quarterback, Cephus Johnson, who could be something special but we won’t know that until Sun Belt play.

Nebraska 45,

South Alabama 17


Arkansas 35, Portland State 23

Georgia 30, Vanderbilt 17

Kentucky 27, Toledo 22

LSU 36, Georgia Southern 20

Mississippi State 40, La.-Lafayette 13

Missouri 35, Wyoming 14

South Carolina 24, North Carolina 17

Tennessee 31, Georgia State 21

Texas A&M 41, Texas State 10

Upset alert

13-point underdog South Florida 28,

No. 19 Wisconsin 27 (Friday)

6 1/2-point underdog Northwestern 31,

No. 25 Stanford 28

5 1/2-point underdog Ole Miss 38, Memphis 35

Other games

Ohio State 37, Florida Atlantic 24

Texas 30, Louisiana Tech 21

Florida State 31, Boise State 22

Virginia 28, Pittsburgh 23

Oklahoma 40, Houston 27 (Sunday)

Charles Hollis has covered college football since 1983. Contact him at budcoin@msn.com

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