When: Saturday, September 3, 2016
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama
Odds: Clemson is currently 7 point favorites, via Odds Shark
Auburn is 34-13-2 all-time against Clemson, its fourth best record against any current Power 5 opponent it has faced at least 10 times.— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) August 31, 2016
The Auburn Tigers host No. 2 Clemson on Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium in another SEC-ACC matchup to kick off Week 1.
The Tigers, led by sophomore quarterback Sean White, figure to have their hands full with Clemson and Heisman frontrunner Deshaun Watson. Fortunately for Auburn, it could be getting Clemson at just the right time.
The defending national runner-up is replacing eight starters on defense, including three starters along the defensive line. Clemson’s two-deep depth chart lists four sophomores and a freshman among its top five defensive ends. Clemson was hit particularly hard in the secondary, too, where three players declared early for the NFL. While there replacements are talented, they are inexperienced.
The strength of this year’s Auburn team could be its offensive line. The Tigers return three starters, including a pair of stud guards in Braden Smith and Alex Kozan. Smith and Kozan make Auburn’s rushing attack go. Auburn has no shortage of running backs to choose from.
White, who recently won the quarterback job, has a trio of talented wideouts at his disposal. Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Jason Smith make up one of the SEC’s most underrated wide receiving groups.
Auburn announces Sean White as starter. ... So much for Netflix star John Franklin III.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) August 25, 2016
Defensively, it all starts up front for Auburn. Defensive end Carl Lawson is one of the nation’s best pass rushers when healthy. Unfortunately, Lawson missed six games last fall. He, along with defensive tackles Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell make up the strength of Auburn’s defense.
Watson, a Heisman finalist in 2015, in arguably the top player in college football. An electric runner, Watson can dominate games with his arm, too. He returns three starters on the offensive line and most of skill players are also back.
Junior wide receiver Mike Williams, at 6’4”, 220 pounds, could be the next great Clemson wideout. He missed all but one game in 2015 after injuring his neck in the season opener. Auburn will have its hands full trying to defend Williams.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson begins his run for the Heisman Trophy with a tough road opener. While Auburn isn’t currently the class of the SEC, it is loaded with talented players on both sides of the ball and Jordan-Hare Stadium is one of the tougher environments in college football. If Watson is comfortable early, it could be a long day for Auburn. He can use his legs to open up big plays downfield. Look for Watson to top 400 yards of total offense.
Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson: The Tigers lost a lot on defense, but return Boulware, their third-leading tackler from a year ago. Boulware is solid in every aspect of the game. He can drop in coverage, rush the quarterback and possesses terrific instincts. He is the key to stopping Auburn’s multi-faceted running game.
Sean White, QB, Auburn: White won the job late in camp and last season’s experience should serve him well. While he isn’t the biggest guy, White is tough as nails. He is not a game manager as he isn’t afraid to push the ball down the field. However, in 143 attempts as a freshman last season, White had only one touchdown pass versus four interceptions.
He is the key to this game for Auburn. If he takes care of the football and makes smart decisions, Auburn can win. If he doesn’t, this one could be over by halftime.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn: If Lawson can stay on the field, he should have a double-digit sack season. He’s usually too fast and strong for most opposing offensive tackles. His power is deceptive and he uses his leverage well.
He will likely be matched up with Clemson offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt. This could be a fun matchup to watch as Hyatt is an excellent technician. Lawson’s combination of power and speed could make him a handful for Clemson to defend, though.
So, what happens?
This game will be much closer than people realize. Auburn has plenty of talent, however the quarterback position is its biggest issue. The Tigers simply do not know what they will get from Sean White on a consistent basis.
Clemson is loaded on offense. While its retooling on defense, the offense is good enough to average 40 points per game or more on a weekly basis. Auburn’s defensive line will provide a tough challenge for Clemson’s running game.
Watson, Williams, Wayne Gallman and Jordan Leggett are just too much for Auburn to defend. While the SEC’s version of the Tigers will keep it close early, Clemson will take over late in the third quarter and not look back.
Prediction: Clemson 41, Auburn 27