Why Auburn could stumble and still deserve to be the first 2-loss Playoff team
Things can change for a team rather quickly. If you don’t believe it, just ask the Auburn Tigers — who were completely written off by many following a rough two-week stretch that saw them only put up six points against Clemson and cough up five turnovers against Mercer.
Trying to assess where they stood following that 24-10 victory over Mercer wasn’t difficult. They just didn’t look like a very good football team.
The past three weeks have been a completely different story, however, and now, there is a legitimate case to be made that Auburn, even with another loss, is worthy of becoming the first 2-loss team that deserves to make the Playoff.
Let’s look at the numbers since Auburn started SEC play.
- Outscored their opponents 144-47 (with the average margin of victory at 34 points)
- Averaged 518 yards on offense (277.7 rushing, 240.3 passing)
- Won the turnover margin 6-2
- 21 combined sacks and QB hurries from the defense
The Tigers’ issues to start the season have seemingly vanished.
Let’s not forget, Kerryon Johnson was injured and didn’t play against Clemson or Mercer. Johnson arguably is the SEC’s best running back. He leads the country with 12 rushing touchdowns in just four games.
Think he might have made a difference in a one-score game at Clemson?
The offensive line also has looked much better in recent weeks and starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham has knocked off the rust that was hindering him at the beginning of the year.
The Baylor transfer has thrown for 717 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions — completing 40-of-54 pass (74.1-percent) — since SEC play began.
With Johnson also putting up impressive numbers — 368 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns — during that three-game span, the offense has found the balance needed to complement the conference’s third-best defense.
The numbers support Auburn’s rise, but the biggest case for the Tigers making the Playoff, even if they lose another game, would be their schedule.
By season’s end, Auburn would have played three legitimate Playoff contenders — Clemson, Georgia and Alabama. No other team in the country can make this claim. Only Alabama and Georgia could come close.
It’s also possible — if not likely — that if Auburn made it to the SEC Championship, it would face Georgia again.
With three games — and possibly a fourth — against Playoff contenders, it gives Auburn a chance of convincing the voters that they deserve to be in the Playoff even if they stumble against once more.
Last year, Penn State lost two games, won the Big Ten championship and finished No. 5 in the final Playoff poll. The Nittany Lions beat the only Playoff team they faced, but lost their only non-conference game against another Power 5 school, and that was to an unranked Pitt team.
That’s the closest any 2-loss team has come to making the Playoff.
In 2015, Stanford finished No. 6 in the final Playoff poll. Again, its losses were to unranked teams, including its only non-conference game against another Power 5 conference.
In 2014, Mississippi State finished No. 7, its Playoff hopes dashed with a second loss in the Egg Bowl.
The point is, there hasn’t been a team yet with Auburn’s resume — or potential resume — to challenge the brief history that a 2-loss team can’t get in.
There will be no need of convincing anyone of anything if they’ll just win out, though.
1. Kerryon Johnson, RB: Saturday’s performance was the best that Johnson has looked in quite some time. The junior rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. In the last three weeks, Johnson has found the end zone 11 times.
2. Austin Golson, OL: This guy continues to show that he can be plugged in anywhere along the offensive line and be effective. Against his former team, Golson continued to see action on Stidham’s blindside, but he’s played center, guard and tackle so far this year — and excelled at all three.
3. Daniel Carlson, K: After making the “stock down” list last week, we all knew it was only a matter of time before Carlson was back in our good graces. College football’s best kicker managed to convert all three of his field goal attempts — with a long of 49 yards — in addition to making all five extra point attempts (14 total points).
1. Kamryn Pettway, RB: The nagging injuries become more and more of a concern with each passing day. While Johnson did show the ability to handle a larger workload in recent weeks, Auburn needs Pettway back on the field in order to preserve the health of both players down the stretch.
2. Will Hastings, WR: In the first three games of the season, Hastings managed to bring in nine catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. While he did contribute a 47-yard touchdown against Mississippi State in Week 5, Hastings was only held to one catch for 13 yards against Ole Miss. There are a lot of mouths to feed, but hopefully, they’ll start to get him more involved.
3. Jeremiah Dinson, CB: Dinson has looked pretty good this season, but Week 6 was rough for the redshirt sophomore. AJ Brown destroyed Dinson in the slot — catching 10 passes for 109 yards. Look for him to try to bounce back this week against LSU in Baton Rouge.