Photo courtesy of Texas A&M athletics
With just four more games remaining in the regular season, the SEC West race is as tight as ever.
Auburn controls its own destiny. A win over Texas A&M would greatly help its chances of getting to Atlanta.
With just two losses, a win over Auburn would make an SEC title push very realistic for the Aggies.
There is a lot on the line at Kyle Field on Saturday. The contest begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and airs on CBS.
Even with A&M joining the SEC in 2012, this is a series that dates back to more than 100 years ago.
A&M and Auburn first met in 1911, where Texas A&M knocked off the Tigers, 16-6. Auburn would not pick up its first win over Texas A&M until 2013, when it took down Johnny Manziel to kick off a magical run to the national championship game.
Since then, the series has been back and forth with A&M holding a slight 6-5 edge. Last season, Auburn fell just short of upsetting the then top-5 ranked Aggies.
One thing to note about this series is that the away team has dominated. Since the Aggies joined the league in 2012, the road team has only lost once.
With just four weeks remaining, Auburn (6-2, 3-1 SEC) is playing its best football of the year. The Tigers could have rolled over and died after losing to rival Georgia by 24, but Bryan Harsin rallied his troops and has them playing at a high level.
Since then, Auburn has beat a top-20 team and a top-10 team — each by two possessions — and most recently debuted at No. 13 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
This midseason turnaround can be largely credited to quarterback Bo Nix, who has blossomed under Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. It seems every week, he one-ups himself and continues to get better and better. If Auburn is going to make a run at the SEC title, it will lean on Nix’s arm and legs.
Coach Harsin has put his team in a great spot to win games, and is starting to receive high praise for it nationally. The work is far from over as Auburn has three top-20 teams remaining on schedule, but there seems to be something brewing on the plains.
Like Auburn, the 14th-ranked Aggies are coming in with tons of momentum.
Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) looked dead in the water when then No. 1 Alabama came to town, but the Aggies shocked the world and pulled off a major upset, making head coach Jimbo Fisher the first former assistant of Alabama’s Nick Saban to beat the Crimson Tide legend.
One of the biggest things to track has been the growth of Zach Calzada. Calzada has shown tremendous toughness as the Aggies’ quarterback since taking over for the injured Haynes King.
Another thing to watch is that A&M is well-rested. Not only did it get a bye last week, but it also got tune-up games against South Carolina and Missouri for the weeks prior.
Keys to Victory
Offensively, Auburn should be able to score enough points to win. The rushing attack finally got going against Ole Miss last week, but the Tigers have shown that they can put the ball in the end zone even without a prolific running game.
Defense is where Auburn will have to win this game, and it is coming off a big week against Ole Miss. The Aggies’ offense is not super prolific, but they have playmakers like Isaiah Spiller, Jalen Wydermeyer, Ainias Smith, and Devon Achane that are capable of changing a game.
The x-factor here is simply rushing the passer. Calzada has shown toughness, but has struggled under pressure. Auburn dialed up the pressure on Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, and it worked. The Tigers are sure to bring more this week.
A&M is one of the best rushing teams in the country, and for good reason. Spiller, Smith, and Achane have made things much easier on the young quarterback recently, which is why the Aggies have turned things around.
The Aggies will have to protect Calzada, because Auburn is going to bring the heat. If Calzada sits back there and has time to throw, the Aggies will be in good shape. If not, they better hope the running game can take them the distance in a close game.
Auburn is capable of popping teams in the mouth, so controlling the ball will be key here. If A&M can win the time of possession and come away with a takeaway or two, then Auburn will be in a big hole for the second half.
With an extra week of rest and preparation, the Aggies should like their chances. If they lose, it will not be because they were not physically and mentally prepared.
Here we have two teams that are playing their best football right now. For that reason, this game will be must-watch television.
Those looking for an offensive shootout will likely be disappointed. The Aggies are rested, so Auburn will not be able to come into this one and light things up the way it has the last couple of weeks.
This game is going to be a dogfight, and one quarterback is going to have to step up and win this game for his team. In recent weeks, few SEC quarterbacks have been better than Nix.
Auburn is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. These big-time matchups in recent weeks seem to have brought out the best in the Tigers.
Final: Auburn 27, Texas A&M 24
Other Predictions from Around the League
Georgia 44, Missouri 10
Ole Miss 34, Liberty 28
Mississippi State 34, Arkansas 31
Alabama 45, LSU 17
Tennessee 28, Kentucky 24
Florida 31, South Carolina 16