The first game between top 10 SEC teams of 2019 is here.

What a great sentence that is. And what a great thought that among the 5 SEC programs ranked in the top 10 this week, we’ll see 7 regular season matchups involving those teams:

  • Oct 5: No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Florida
  • Oct 12: No. 10 Florida at No. 5 LSU
  • Oct. 26: No. 7 Auburn at No. 5 LSU
  • Nov. 2: No. 10 Florida vs. No. 3 Georgia
  • Nov. 9: No. 5 LSU at No. 1 Alabama
  • Nov. 16: No. 3 Georgia at No. 7 Auburn
  • Nov. 30: No. 1 Alabama at No. 7 Auburn

And yes, while I realize that these teams will beat up on each other and they won’t stay in the top 10, 7 of the next 9 Saturdays will have a matchup involving 2 of these 5 teams. That’s magnificent.

So, why don’t we discuss some final thoughts I have about the top 10 matchup that we’ll get this Saturday between Auburn and Florida:

How scary is Florida’s defense at full strength?

That’s what I keep wondering. Florida fans know this, but I’m not sure this storyline has gotten enough attention nationally. The Gators have been without their 2 best defensive players for basically the past 3 games. You could argue that C.J. Henderson and Jabari Zuniga are Florida’s best players overall.

Without them, the Gators’ FBS defensive ranks are elite:

  • Scoring: No. 5
  • Total defense: No. 18
  • Run defense: No. 17
  • Pass defense: No. 31
  • Sacks: T-No. 2

Jonathan Greenard has played like an All-American while veterans like David Reese and Jeremiah Moon have been everywhere for Todd Grantham’s defense.

The question now is what will this unit look like with everyone back? It’s hard to play much better than a unit that allowed 3 points in its past 9 quarters of football, but that’s the bar that’s been set for the Gators.

Granted, the competition is going to increase starting on Saturday with 3 matchups vs. top 10 teams in the next 4 games. Game-planning to face Gus Malzahn and the new Joe Brady offense at LSU is different from game-planning to face a listless Tennessee offense and Towson.

If there were ever a perfect time to be healthy, this is it.

Why questions about Bo Nix handling hostile atmosphere are right and wrong

A lot of people are wondering how Nix is going to respond to playing in The Swamp, which will be the most raucous road venue he’s seen thus far. There’s nothing wrong with saying that it’ll be a different beast than facing a Texas A&M squad that had already been humbled by Clemson.

But part of the reason that the crowd didn’t dictate Auburn’s performance in College Station was because in the first 2 minutes of the game, Anthony Schwartz broke off that 67-yard touchdown run. If there was ever a way to silence 101,000 people, that was it.

(By the way, super underrated block there from Nix to set the edge.)

Auburn led for 58 of the 60 minutes in that game. As a result, Nix wasn’t playing catch-up or forced into obvious throwing situations. Many people pointed out his 12-for-20, 100-yard performance as a reason that Auburn was flawed and undeserving of top 5 consideration. I’ll agree to disagree with that and instead say that unless the Tigers come out with a huge play early on again, this will be uncharted territory for Nix.

It’s one thing to lead a comeback at a neutral site. It’s another thing to lead a comeback in a true road SEC venue against a veteran-laden defense.

But based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s nothing to suggest that the moment will be too big for Nix.

This might be the ultimate test for Dan Mullen

I feel like if Florida surpasses 30 points, Mullen will be worthy of early National Coach of the Year talk. Why? Think about a few things.

Florida is facing what I believe is the best defensive line in America. Rather, a Florida offensive line that has struggled after returning just 1 starter is facing what I believe is the best defensive line in America. Mullen knows that. That’s why after the Gators allowed 3 sacks against Towson, he called out the group for needing to be better mentally prepared.

So with that in mind, also remember that Kyle Trask is not Feleipe Franks from a mobility standpoint. You know those plays when there are 2 defensive linemen on the verge of a sack and a mobile quarterback is needed to just keep the play alive? Yeah, that’s where Florida is going to miss Franks this weekend. Trask is not a guy who’s known for making things happen when plays break down.

He won’t rely on carrying the ball 10-15 times per game like a typical Mullen quarterback because that’s not his game. This is the most running you’ll see from Trask:

But here is what is in Mullen’s favor. Trask, so far, has been extremely accurate. It’s up to Mullen to dial up those quick-hitting routes to the outside to keep Trask out of harm’s way. He can’t be a sitting duck for the Auburn defensive line. Mullen’s game plan could be reminiscent of what we saw from Dan Enos with Jarren Williams running Miami’s offense early in that opener in Orlando.

If Mullen is scheming receivers open all afternoon and keeping that Auburn defense on its heels, he’ll have earned himself some serious praise.

That’s also why I think this line moved in Auburn’s favor

This line opened as a pick ’em. It’s now — as of Thursday morning — at Auburn -2.5. My guess is that the bets came in favor of Auburn because of the tall task ahead for Florida to move the ball against that defense given the issues on the offensive line.

To me, that’s the biggest mismatch in this game. And I say that knowing Nix is going to face an extremely difficult test against that Gators pass rush. But Auburn’s offensive line is much improved, and Nix’s mobility should be able to get him out of some tough spots (though probably not all of them).

I’ll be interested to see if that over/under of 48.5 comes down a bit. This seems like a game with a pair of heavyweight defenses who would have no problem winning 17-14.

That’d be enough to make plenty of Auburn bettors happy.

The take I don’t want to see after this game

Please, please, please, please don’t be that person on Twitter if Auburn loses. You know who I’m talking about.

“Man, I can’t believe y’all were all in on Gus again.”

Malzahn has shown enough in this first month by beating a pair of ranked teams away from Jordan-Hare that he should be off any hot seat list, regardless of if he beats a top 10 team on the road. Auburn would still be 5-1, hovering around the top 10 with a Playoff path in the middle of October. If his team collapses and goes 4-4 in SEC play, that’s a different conversation.

In this take-crazy world, I already know that people who buried Malzahn in the preseason are ready to pounce on him the second he falters. And look, I get that it’s not just this year that manufactures an opinion like that. Last year’s clunker might still be weighing heavily on the minds of the anti-Malzahn crowd.

But win or lose, I’m still buying this new version of Malzahn. Him calling plays and being more decisive and transparent — on and off the field — is paying dividends for Auburn. If people are selling their Auburn stock after a potential loss, let me know and I’ll gladly scoop it up.

In the meantime, though, I’ll gladly scoop up my remote and lock into CBS on Saturday afternoon.