There’s 1 thing that’s holding me back from jumping in feet first with Auburn
After Saturday’s beatdown of Alabama, I fell on my sword.
After weeks of denying that Auburn would be a lock to make the College Football Playoff as a 2-loss team, I copped to my mistake in judgment. If the Tigers are able to get past Georgia again, they’ll become the first 2-loss team to make the field. That much I believe.
Right now, those odds look favorable. After all, the Tigers just beat No. 1. Twice. By double digits. In terms of the “what have you done for me lately” argument, Auburn has done more than most teams have done in the entire Playoff era. Beating not one but two undefeated teams in that fashion is no small feat. The fact that that’s what Auburn needed to do just to make the conference title game is mind-boggling.
If Auburn wins on Saturday, it’ll be labeled by many as the most dangerous team in the country. Nobody will want to face Gus Malzahn’s squad in the Playoff, and frankly, I can understand why.
Right now, the Tigers look like the most complete team in America. They have a relentless defense with All-American pass-rushers, they have an offensive line that’s playing at an elite level, they have arguably the most valuable offensive player in the SEC in Kerryon Johnson (assuming he recovers from his shoulder injury) and they have a vastly improved, game-changing quarterback in Jarrett Stidham.
What’s not to love?
Well, there’s one thing.
While the Georgia and Alabama wins were as impressive as anything any team did in 2017, both of those games were obviously at home. When Auburn takes the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday — and really for any postseason game it plays — it will be away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’ll mark the first time in a month that the Tigers will have to play in another venue.
We’re going to find out real soon if Auburn’s show can travel on the road.
As everyone knows, it’s one thing to come out firing in front of a raucous home crowd against No. 1. It’s another to beat a top-10 team straight up at a neutral site when the opposition doesn’t have to use silent calls.
So … you’re saying that it’s tougher to win a game away from your home stadium? Imagine that?!
Yes, that’s partially what I’m saying. Why that’s relevant is because Auburn hasn’t exactly looked like the best team in America away from Jordan-Hare. In fact, a 3-2 road mark isn’t exactly Playoff-worthy. None of those road victories came against teams with a winning record in conference play, either. Auburn’s two road losses, on the other hand, were both to top-25 teams.
Take an even closer look at the Tigers’ home-road splits, and they aren’t exactly even (via stat reference):
In fairness, Johnson was injured and did not play in the loss at Clemson, and the Tigers managed just 38 net rushing yards. Do those numbers suggest that Auburn is Jekyll and Hyde? No, but they do show that, at the very least, Auburn is not the same exact team away from Jordan-Hare.
Up until Stidham went off in the second half against Texas A&M, he had just 3 touchdown passes in his first 18 quarters on the road in 2017. Things clicked for Stidham and the Auburn offense that day, which sort of served as the launching point for this run to close out the regular season.
The rise of Stidham working with Malzahn and Chip Lindsey has been well-documented. It’s fair to say that the Tigers look like a different team than the one that was shut out in the second half at LSU in October. Auburn didn’t lose the battle at the line of scrimmage in any of its 5 wins to close out the season. That’s undoubtedly been the common denominator in 5 convincing victories.
That couldn’t be said when the Tigers were man-handled against Clemson, nor was that the case when LSU stormed back in Baton Rouge.
Imposing one’s will against an elite foe away from home is the ultimate test of a champion. That’s why postseason games aren’t played at home venues in college football. The home-field advantage can be overwhelming, which it has obviously been for Auburn in 2017.
If the Tigers really are the SEC’s best, we’ll see it on Saturday. And if they do, I’ll dive head-first into the bandwagon.
You know, assuming there’s any room left.