An elite defensive front: Check. A powerful ground game: Check. An accurate quarterback who can stretch the defense: Check. Auburn had to win against No. 1 Georgia to keep its title hopes alive — and, probably, keep Gus Malzahn around — and the Tigers responded with one of the most impressive performances of the college football season.
It’s a statement win that suddenly has analysts making room for Auburn in their playoff projections.
Malzahn had been 0-7 against top-10 competition since the end of the 2014 season. This year included an ugly 14-6 loss to Clemson and a 20-point choke job against LSU. Yet, the two-loss Tigers might just control their own destiny in the championship race.
If Auburn defeats No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl and then wins a rematch vs. Georgia in the SEC title game, it will be nearly impossible to keep out Malzahn’s squad.
A couple days ago, I laughed at the possibility of Auburn running the table. No way, I said. The Tigers haven’t won a big matchup in forever. Georgia’s running game is better. Georgia’s defense is better. Not to mention Nick Saban’s vastly superior team in Tuscaloosa.
After watching Malzahn save his job with a defensive clinic and several big offensive play calls, it’s clear I was wrong. Even if Auburn loses out, this team currently has the capacity to realize its craziest goals, and that’s much more than I was willing to give it credit for earlier this week, even as at least one of my colleagues weathered a storm of vitriol for casting his lot with the Tigers.
In the hours after Auburn’s memorable victory, the toilet-paper-rollin’ fans at Toomer’s Corner got more good news: Mississippi State was making Alabama look mortal. The Crimson Tide escaped Starkville with its undefeated record intact, but Saban’s team will be under the microscope in the lead-up to its trip to Auburn.
Malzahn’s team is now going to be a trendy pick to beat its biggest rival on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s feeling like 2010 and 2013 all over again.
More Auburn-Georgia coverage:
- Malzahn secures future by recapturing his past
- How Auburn “won the battle up front”
- Chip Kelly explains how Tigers schooled Bulldogs
- Auburn offense is SEC’s highest-scoring unit in nearly a decade
Kerryon Johnson headed to New York?
At this rate, no one will catch Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in the Heisman Trophy race. The Sooners quarterback lit up No. 6 TCU with 333 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in another huge win Saturday night, and is a mortal lock to at least be invited to the ceremony in Manhattan.
But who will join him?
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson made a strong case for himself Saturday, finishing with 233 yards from scrimmage and the game-sealing 55-yard touchdown reception against No. 1 Georgia. He now has 17 total touchdowns on the season to complement his 1,187 combined rushing and receiving yards (an average of 2.1 scores and 148.4 yards per game).
He’ll likely need to beef up those numbers with a big game — and an Auburn win — against Alabama in two weeks, but if he can do that, he has a strong chance of getting a New York invite.
The short list of other strong candidates post-Week 11 includes:
- Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph
- Stanford running back Bryce Love
- Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett
- Penn State running back Saquon Barkley
- Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate
- Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor
- Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson
- USC quarterback Sam Darnold
- Notre Dame running back Josh Adams
Drew Lock closing in on SEC history
If Missouri had been a halfway decent team over the first month and a half, quarterback Drew Lock might be a legitimate Heisman candidate himself. But the Tigers are 5-5, and Lock must settle for a consolation chase of SEC history. He tossed 4 touchdowns against Tennessee to improve his season total to 35. That number is best in the nation, and only 5 behind former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson for the single-season conference record.
Assuming the Tigers make a bowl game — even if Mizzou finishes 5-7, it’s strong academic rating could put it in the postseason — Lock will have three more games against questionable defenses in Vanderbilt, Arkansas and someone like FIU or whichever middle-of-the-road program winds up in the Birmingham Bowl.
Sorry, Andre, but your record is on its last legs.
Miami, Oklahoma make moves
The third edition of the 2017 College Football Playoff rankings will be plenty interesting. Either Alabama or Miami (which destroyed No. 3 Notre Dame) figures to take the top spot, while Oklahoma (which tore up No. 6 TCU) appears to be a strong candidate for the third spot.
From there, Clemson is likely to keep its No. 4 spot, while undefeated Wisconsin should slide into No. 5 after picking up its most impressive win of the season (Iowa).
Beyond those five teams, there are six others who I think have a shot at making the final four-team field: Georgia (a lock if they win out), Auburn (highly likely), Ohio State (somewhat likely), Oklahoma State (unlikely), Penn State (unlikely) and Michigan (unlikely).
Here’s what else caught our Eye in Week 11
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts produced an impressive game-winning drive against Mississippi State, including a touchdown strike to freshman Devonta Smith.
— Crimson.Gfx (@crimson_gfx) November 12, 2017
Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu continued his red-hot streak, throwing for 418 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Rebels’ win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hawaii native and JUCO transfer is averaging 389.3 passing yards in his three career starts. If Shea Patterson sticks around Oxford, it looks as if the Rebs will have one heck of a quarterback competition in 2018.
The best running back in the SEC? It just might be Kentucky sophomore Benny Snell, Jr., who just became the first Wildcats back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He also now holds UK’s career rushing touchdowns record with 29.
Florida’s failed pick-6 at South Carolina was an excellent microcosm of the Gators’ 2017 season.
Uhhh…what just happened? pic.twitter.com/aRumkgf5Ub
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 11, 2017
It’s … probably time for Butch Jones to go.
Tennessee's most recent game vs each SEC team:
Alabama – L 45-7
Arkansas – L 24-20
Auburn – L 55-23
Florida – L 26-20
Georgia – L 41-0
Kentucky – L 29-26
LSU – L 38-7
Mizzou – L 50-17
Miss State – L 41-31
Ole Miss – L 34-3
SCar – L 15-9
Texas A&M – L 45-38
Vandy – L 45-34
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 12, 2017
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) November 11, 2017