On the first “real” Saturday of this college football season, the marquee matchup is No. 6 Washington versus No. 9 Auburn from Atlanta, and the stakes are huge if either is to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Washington vs. Auburn – 3:30 PM ET (ABC)
This is a neutral site affair that will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and the loser will have a dagger thrust through their collective hearts because the College Football Playoff (the title game is in this stadium) is an exclusive event with only four tickets being distributed to the mightiest quartet in the nation. Whichever team wins will have notched a significant victory but nothing more than that as there are (at least) 11 more games to be played. However, the losing team not only begins its season with a blemish on its record, but the agonizing loss could be a morale buster going forward.
Huskies Hungry for Recognition
The University of Washington has not seen a national title in over 25 years but came close two seasons ago when they lost to Alabama in the CFP semifinals. However, the Huskies have reloaded and are projected to be even better than the 10-3 edition they sported last season. A Pac-12 title could grease the skids for another CFP invitation, but first they will need to beat a powerhouse hailing from the SEC in the Tigers.
Washington has the luxury of a four-year starter under center with Jake Browning barking plays and hoping to eclipse his 19 touchdowns and 2,719 passing yards from last season. Perhaps an even bigger weapon is Myles Gaskin, a four-year-starter as well, with 21 rushing and three receiving TD’s that capped off a season in which he averaged 6.2 yards per carry. The wide receiving corps will miss Dante Pettis, who was selected in the second round by the 49ers in the 2018 NFL draft, and sophomore Hunter Bryant, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
That thins the herd quite a bit for Washington, but true freshman Marquis Spiker could quell any doubts about Browning’s targets as he is a 6-foot-3, 91-pound wideout who set the California state high school record for career touchdown receptions with a whopping 72 during his four years at Murrieta Valley High School and 27 in his senior year. Sophomore Ty Jones and junior Aaron Fuller are the leading candidates to assume the starting spots at wideout for Washington.
Washington has a loaded offensive line which routinely smashed holes for Gaskin and provided a steel curtain for Browning last season. Yet, much of the buzz emanates around the Huskies’ defense. Their secondary is loaded and the defensive front is menacing which could spell doom and gloom for the Tigers.
Tigers Poised to Pounce
Auburn was on the precipice of a CFP berth last year until they met Georgia in the SEC title game in which they fell 28-7 and then exited the season with a whimper when they lost to undefeated UCF in the Peach Bowl. Redemption is first and foremost on their minds and it all begins on Saturday night. The Tigers will welcome back gunslinger Jarrett Stidham, who tossed for 18 touchdowns and over 3,500 yards last season. Kerryon Johnson has moved onto the NFL’s Detroit Lions, so it will be junior Kam Johnson locking and loading in the backfield. Stidham will have the luxury of getting back all three of his top receivers from last year with seniors Ryan Davis and Will Hastings as well as junior Darius Slayton.
Defensively the Tigers are loaded for bear – or Huskies for that matter. The front seven is about as good as it gets in college football, but the secondary may be the weak link. Let’s understand that a weak link on an Auburn defense is a strength on most other squads but if there is a defensive hole to exploit, the long ball could be the most potent weapon.
Too Close to Call?
A quick glance over to Sportsbook Review, the sports betting industry’s bible featuring all the best online sportsbooks, tells us that the Tigers have dropped from 2½ to 1½ point favorites. But the neutral site is deceiving because this is almost a home game for Auburn as they will be playing in Atlanta with most of the crowd dressed in Auburn blue and orange. The haul from Auburn to the Big Peach is only about an hour and a half.
The Auburn defensive front is the key to this game. As good as Gaskin is, he won’t be able to create daylight where there is none. Jake Browning will feel the heat from the same source so exploiting Auburn’s secondary will not be an easy task throwing from his knees. The Tigers’ offense will have its own issues with a tenacious Huskies’ defense. Get on over to Sportsbook Review and get up-to-the-second odds on this and all the other games in Week 1.