The SEC and Big 12 have more animosity towards each other than any other two conferences. This can be attributed, firstly, to Missouri and Texas A&M joining the SEC a few years ago, and secondly, because the SEC has been good for so long, it’s hard not to hate them. The first cause still stings for many, but the second seems to no longer ring true. Every non-Alabama SEC team had at least four losses this season, though they still ride to the top on their prior glory.
Auburn lost four times this season. Two of those losses came to playoff teams, Clemson and Alabama, so they get a pass for that. However, Georgia and Texas A&M, the other two losses, were both abysmal this season. Oklahoma, on the other hand, has just two losses, one to a playoff team, the other to the new Texas head coach.
If Oklahoma does what they did for the last 9 games of the season, and do it well, Auburn might not come within 30 points. Let’s learn why.
Date/Time: Jan 2/ 7:30 CST
Where: Sugar Bowl
Betting Line: OU -3.5
Coming into this game the Sooners sit at 7th in the CFP, is the Big 12 champion, and sent two players (Mayfield and Westbrook) to the Heisman ceremony.
Oklahoma, like most Big 12 teams, focuses their energy on winning with offense, while Auburn represents their conference well too, with one of the best defenses in the country. Oklahoma’s offensive strength, while they’re solid on the ground, mostly comes in the air, with Baker Mayfield averaging roughly 320 yards and 3 scores in the air each game. Oklahoma and Mayfield absolutely need to match if not outdo that average if they want to beat Auburn, though that isn’t the only key they should pay attention to.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Throw The Dang Ball: As I mentioned earlier, it is crucial that Oklahoma throws the football well in New Orleans. Dede Westbrook is the best receiver in the country, but he can’t prove that without the ball.
The good news is, if Auburn struggles with anything on defense, it’s defending the pass. They allowed about 225 yards a game in the SEC, the conference terrible NFL draft analysts love to go to when looking for “heady leaders with all the intangibles you could possibly want” and for “a guy coaches love to coach, a leader who could be a great game manager at the next level”(shout out to @AwfulWhiteQBs on twitter who knows way more about this than I do). The problem with these quarterbacks is that, they actually aren’t good (I should run an NFL franchise with all this common sense), and Auburn giving that many yards up to bad quarterbacks says a lot about the defense. Oklahoma needs to take advantage.
Make Auburn Beat You In The Air: Speaking of awful SEC quarterbacks, Auburn has a bunch of them. Sean “Check down God” White, Jeremy “July Heisman” Johnson, and John “Wait The Guy From Last Chance U?” Franklin III have all played this season, and none of them did much of anything. Sean White will get the start on January 2nd, despite being the worst of the three quarterbacks because along with not being able to throw, he also can’t really run (significantly less yards than Franklin on more carries). White struggles with pressure, and man coverage, so if Oklahoma can do either of those, the passing game should not give them any kind of issues.
Hit The Big Plays: Oklahoma is one of the best big play teams in the country. Joe Mixon, Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine, and Baker Mayfield can all break out for huge plays and while they aren’t the only 4, they’re the most common big play makers. Auburn isn’t going to score a lot, but Oklahoma probably won’t be able to either, at least not with long, dink and dunk drives. The Sooners have to find big plays, be in on deep passes, breakaway runs, or even some trickery, they must have at least 2 scores of 40 or more yards to win this game, in my opinion.
This seems like a pretty straightforward prediction. The automatic tie-ins caused this matchup, and because it was a down year in the SEC, Oklahoma should have a chance to notch a win for the Big 12 right now. Oklahoma has a clear path to winning this game, and if they can stick to it they’ll help the conference out in a big way, when it comes to national recognition.
What happens if they don’t stick to that path? If Auburn is able to run the ball easily, giving them no reason to pass, Oklahoma will likely need at least 30 points. Add in a lack of a passing game, and no big plays, and Oklahoma could very possibly find themselves on the losing end of this game.
I don’t expect the worst case scenario to happen, because I’ve watched both teams play and I just don’t see it happening. With that in mind, Oklahoma probably can’t accomplish everything they need to for this to be a blowout. I have the Sooners winning, 35-17.