Note: the results of games against I-AA opponents have been thrown out for everyone across the board, so if my numbers differ slightly from what you're expecting, that's why.
I've brought back my score projection system for the South Carolina-Auburn SEC Championship Game this weekend. First, a brief explanation.
The way this works is that I determine how much, on average, the two teams' results differ from their opponents' averages. Take Auburn. The Tigers beat Mississippi State 17-14. The Bulldogs allowd 20.73 points per game, so the Auburn offense gets a -3.73 for the game. The Bulldogs scored 25.09 points per game, so the Auburn defense get a -11.09 for the game. Keep doing that for every opponent, average it together, and that's what I'm looking for. Same thing for South Carolina.
Once you have those figures, combine them with the two combatants' season-long averages and you get the score projection.
Auburn scored 39.73 PPG, but South Carolina allowed 9.94 fewer points per game on average than its opponents scored. Put those together and you get 29.78. South Carolina allows 20.27 PPG while Auburn scores 15.53 more points than its opponents allow on average. Put those together and you get 35.80. Average those two together and you've got Auburn's projected score: 32.79, or 33 points.
South Carolina scored 32.82 PPG, but Auburn allowed 4.05 fewer points per game on average than its opponents scored. Put those together and you get 28.77. Auburn allows 25.18 PPG while South Carolina scores 7.32 more points than its opponents allow on average. Put those together and you get 32.51. Average those two together and you've got South Carolina's projected score: 30.64, or 31 points.
There's your score projection: a 33-31 Auburn win. Do the same thing with yardage, and I project a 460-400 edge for Auburn in yardage. Limit it to just SEC play and Clemson (who both played), and you get 32-28 Auburn with a 433-384 yardage advantage for the Tigers.
That sounds about right. Auburn won the first game 35-27 with a 492-384 edge in yardage. These figures project a closer game in both points and yards, and with both teams in better shape than they were in September, it makes sense.
The only thing that gives me pause is wondering whether Auburn can pull off another close game.
Auburn has won five games by seven points or less, and according to Phil Steele, only three teams in the last eight seasons have had a net of six or more wins by that margin. Throw in Auburn's win over South Carolina, which was by a touchdown with a two pointer, and AU is already at that six close win threshold.
Auburn has some unique capabilities that allow them to squeak by in close games. Auburn has a great ground game, highlighted by Cam Newton's uncanny ability to pick up first downs, which allows them to control clock. Nick Fairley's ability to wreak havok in the backfield puts serious pressure on quarterbacks who must attempt pass after pass in a hurry-up offense scenario. Wes Byrum is also a reliable kicker who has made a lot of clutch kicks.
South Carolina has some of those elements. Marcus Lattimore is a workhorse running back and Stephen Garcia is mobile. Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor both had more sacks than Fairley did in conference play. Spencer Lanning is also a pretty good kicker. The huge difference is that Garcia is not the massive hulk that Newton is, he's slightly more of a turnover risk too.
For my offical prediction, I'm siding with the projection: 33-31 Tigers. I want badly for Steve Spurrier to win it because he's still my favorite football coach. However, I just don't see this Auburn team losing to South Carolina. Oregon is another story, but for this weekend, Auburn should keep on trucking.