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Staff Picks - #8 Auburn vs #23 Kentucky

Time to Barn Hard

NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go... With under 24 hours until the kickoff of Auburn’s 2020 season, the luminaries here at College & Magnolia offer their sage opinions on what Tiger fans will see tomorrow afternoon. Most of us see a close contest destined to give us that all too familiar fall Saturday heartburn but there are a few brave souls who are prepared to barn hard no matter what.

Auburn (-7.5) vs Kentucky (O/U 49.5)

2019 Auburn fans won’t recognize 2020 Auburn. Bo Nix is going to take a huge leap forward. His receivers are healthy for game one. Our fearless leader has finally found someone he trusts enough to manage playcalling duties. The defense will reload with All-Conference (and maybe All-American) talent. A talented (and deep!) group of hard-hitting running backs. Pre-season optimism has overwhelmed pre-game jitters for me. Look for Chad Morris to show off all his weapons Saturday. He has a tendency to put up a lot of points in his first game at a new school. Brace yourselves, Wildcats. Let’s barn hard, yall.

Auburn 48

Kentucky 14

-Josh Dub

I was talking with a friend of my wife’s the other day and she asked how I thought Auburn would do. I was raised by an old school Auburn fan who taught me to sandbag and say that we were just hoping that everyone buckled their chin straps correctly and that they just had fun out there. That was met with my wife telling her, I always do this. I responded by saying that I just lower the bar so that, when they win by 40 in a game I don’t expect, I get the rush of being a kid again and genuinely happy when Auburn wins.

That said! HERE WE GO!

Auburn has got stars everywhere on the outside and in the backfield but a bunch of green horns on the starting line on offense, so IF Chad Morris (or Gus if he is still calling the plays) can use quick screens and....this route called a hide the fact that the Auburn offensive line will look a lot like the French army circa 1938, then they might buy a few chances for Anders to kick some field goals.

On defense, you don’t lose D Brown and Marlon and get better. You probably don’t maintain the production you had last year on the D-Line. You can get back there, but that takes time and experience. That said, I am a bit more bullish on the defense as a whole. There is a ton of talent to go around on the line and the secondary and the Linebackers may be the best in the conference. Once again, the defense will keep Auburn in every game for the most part. And that new line will be tested against a really well coached, running offense that Kentucky brings to the Plains.

I love what Mark Stoops has been able to build in Lexington, and sort of done what Matt Campbell has done at Iowa State, that team you just don’t want to see cause they are scrappy and will take advantage of your mistakes. On the betting lines, I am staying away from this one with spendy cashy monies but with fakey non-existant moneies, I love the Cats getting a touchdown and a hook because I see this one being in the 3-4 range with Auburn probably winning, just based on history and going with my heart, but I could totally see Kentucky pulling this off as well.

Gimme Auburn over Kentucky 27-24 and the defense had to get a late stop to seal this one away. Nothing like a late missed FG to start that stomach ulcer.

(betting pick: UK and the points, Over at 51)

-Drew Mac

Auburn *should* win this game. Auburn *should* have the talent advantage. But hey, this is 2020. Who knows what havoc Covid will have wrought on install for any given team.

That being said, I trust Bo Nix’s development as a true sophomore. I think this Auburn team, while still going through some growing pains, will finally start to hit on explosive plays with a veteran WR corps. This Kentucky defense is not the one that one 10 games two years ago.

The only way things go sideways is if the retooled defensive line can’t stop the Kentucky ground game, which is an extremely valid concern. The Wildcats have three returning backs who combined for 1,900 yards and 18 TDs while sharing the spotlight with Lynn Bowden Jr last year, and Terry Wilson is no slouch. I think the Auburn linebackers are going to have to earn their keep as best LB group in the SEC here in week 1.

Auburn takes this one with some big plays through the air and a defense that bucks up in the second half. 27-13 Auburn.

-Ryan Sterritt

I’m a huge proponent of playing a patsy in week 1. In a normal season fall camp doesn’t really give a complete picture of how an offensive line communicates in real time, how well the quarterback has his timing down with his receivers, if the tailback has fumbling problems, mike linebacker being able to switch the defensive alignment based on tendencies, etc. etc. But if you can’t play a patsy I’m a huge proponent of playing a top 10 team who will keep you engaged without distractions leading up to kickoff and will tell you so much about where you can go from here. What you don’t want is a trap game in week 1.

Folks what we have here is a trap game in week 1.

We’re 14 points better than Kentucky. I genuinely believe that. Talent wise and coaching we’re at least 2 scores better than this football team at home. And it does not matter one bit thanks to COVID.

I am so concerned over what we’re going to look like out there considering how many guys were held out at various points of our extended fall camp thanks to COVID. Which wouldn’t be as big of a deal in a normal year, even though it would still be a big deal, but OH YEAH WE HAD NO SPRING PRACTICE. So in keeping with my tradition of being absolutely God awful at Barnin’ Hard, this tiger ain’t changing his stripes for this one.

Keys to victory:

- Stop a Kentucky ground attack with a defensive line that is fully capable of plugging the gaps and have your linebackers make plays in space. This will only work if our corners, who will be in a lot of one on one situations, make plays. Jaylin Simpson is the guy that will get picked on, and this is a fine opportunity for the redshirt freshman to get thrown into the deep end to see if he’ll sink or swim in his first meaningful snaps. If he can hold his own, we’re in good shape.

- Establish an intermediate passing attack early in this game. Keep their defense off balance early on the offensive script and allow Bo Nix and an offensive line that will struggle but has a higher ceiling than that of the last 2 seasons gain some confidence early.

- Get the fastest player in all of college football 10 touches/targets for the day. This one may appear in all 10 entries of “Keys to Victory” for our schedule this year. Scheme to get Anthony Schwartz the ball in multiple ways. And then scheme off of it to get other players in positions to be in favorable coverages.

- Rotate your running backs in a way that makes sense instead of giving the “guy with the hot hand” 25 carries. This running back room is deeper and more talented than it has been since the healthy parts of 2016/2017 for Pettway and KJ. Give these guys a chance to punish Kentucky’s defense with fresh legs for 4 quarters. Make them hate playing us.

- Oh, and finally, get some sound sleep and show up alert for an 11 AM kickoff. I don’t need to explain to any of you why this is obviously something we should all worry over.

All in all I think being at home does matter, despite 20,000 people in the stands. Traveling in these uncertain times has to account for something, right?

Auburn 27 Kentucky 21

-Josh Black

If the first few weeks of football are any indication, I’m expecting some low scoring sloppy games on Saturday. And while Auburn’s rivals have essentially “warmup games” to start their season, Auburn will play another ranked opponent in Week 1. That’s JABA right?

Anyways, I’m really excited to see this group of Running Backs led by Captain Shaun Shivers this season. I’m really excited to see Shaun get the opportunity to start and it’ll be interesting to see how many carries he and the rest of the RBs get on Saturday. This is an experienced receiving corps too led by Seth Williams, “Flash” Anthony Schwartz and veteran Eli Stove.

The biggest question to me (other than the offensive line) will be the defensive line as it’s hard replacing Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. And we can all hope for better O-Line play this season and a more mature Bo Nix as he enters Year 2 as the starting QB.

As I said earlier, I’m thinking this is a low-scoring game and I’m a bit concerned about this one, with the 11AM kick and all but I’ll take Auburn in a close one.

Auburn 17 Kentucky 14

-Will McLaughlin

I firmly believe Auburn has a significant talent advantage at the skill positions in this matchup. Yes the Cats have an athletic QB, a strong stable of backs, intriguing WRs and a surprisingly good secondary but across the board I’ll take Auburn. However, it won’t matter if the Tigers lose the line of scrimmage battle which is way more likely than any of us wanna imagine.

As you have probably read, heard, seen by now, Kentucky has one of the best offensive lines in the country. This isn’t a group made up of 3-star kids with heart. Left tackle Landon Young was a 5-star recruit. Center Drake Jackson was a 4-star ranked as a top 150 player. Future NFLer Darian Kinnard was a 4-star recruit as well. This is both an experienced AND talented front who enjoy physically beating the hell out of their opponents. Everyone in the world knew that a run play was likely coming last fall and it rarely mattered. While I trust Rodney Garner & Kevin Steele to rebuild this front 4 for the Tigers, I am concerned about them being ready to go week 1. Even with Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson last year, Oregon pushed around the Tigers for one half. This UK OL is of the same calibre and it wouldn’t shock me if they came out the gate with similar success.

Then there’s the other side of the ball where the UK return plenty of experience of a solid front 7. However, they were actually pretty porous against the run last fall allowing over 5 yards a carry against SEC competition. The problem is I am not sure if Auburn is ready to take advantage. In most years, when I see a defense susceptible to the run, I expect an AU victory that borders on dominant. I just don’t know if the Tigers though will be ready to go on Saturday.

That’s why Anders Carlson will be the x-factor. I think Auburn’s offense will look disjointed but generate enough explosive plays to get into UK territory consistently. They don’t put the ball in the end zone as much as we would like but Anders knocks through 4 big kicks. The defense rebounds from a rough first quarter to limit the UK offense to only 2 touchdowns on the day. Auburn recovers a late onside kick to escape with a hard won victory.

Auburn 26 Kentucky 20

-AU Nerd

Auburn at 11am.

Auburn in season openers.

Auburn as favorites vs hungry teams.

Yuck. I am finding it hard to Barn as hard...——record scratch—-

(The boys are back in town starts playing)

Just kidding!

The Boys are back!

Guys we are gonna kill em.

Auburn 34- Kats 24

-Son of Crow

Most of the time I have some idea of what to expect. There’s a gut feeling, an inkling, an intuition. Even days when I publicly avow a big win, and we end up losing, I realize that I knew it deep in my soul. This time, I have nothing. I guess that’s what 2020 will do to a man. I can’t pick this game with my heart or my gut, so I have to go with the limited knowledge that we’ve been able to glean from the practice fields. Somehow, Gus has kept it tighter than usual this season. He’s keeping spies, leaks, and COVID out of the fold.

It’s not a big secret that Auburn’s level of talent is superior across the board, but Kentucky might have the mix of experience to go along with its skill to make this a very scary opening contest. We’ve heard that the Wildcats’ lines are both going to be solid, and that gives us a flashback of what the Oregon offense was able to do for about a half last year in Arlington. Auburn can’t afford a slow start on Saturday, because we’ll be breaking in a new offensive line. Now, that might not be the worst thing in the world — our line last year was nothing much to write home about — but they started to get better down the stretch. That said, this year’s group might be more maulers than linemen. Sometimes you just need some dudes being guys up front to push people around. We might have that, thus the run game could come to life with a much more talented group in the backfield. Not to mention, Bo Nix’s sophomore development with a true quarterback coach could be something unparalleled.

Kentucky will give us a fight, but there’s no way I’m picking us to lose this game. It’ll probably be close, and uncomfortably so for a while I’d wager. Still, the home “crowd” and the overall talent win out in the end. I think someone else mentioned Anders Carlson being a weapon in this one, and I agree. I think he hits 3 kicks and Auburn scores 3 touchdowns. Tigers 30-21.

-Jack Condon

In our preseason predictions I pegged this as one of the three games that Auburn could lose, and had it at the top of my list as the one I’m most worried about. That may seem weird, but we really just have no clue how any team, including our own is going to look on Saturday. We’ve all seen how bad some of these other teams already playing have looked, and I guess people think that there’s no way their own team could look that bad, but I’m not so sure. That said, I believe this Auburn team has all the components necessary to be better than last season and thus easily handle a Kentucky team that is, well they’re Kentucky. The new look offense should give an older, more seasoned Bo Nix a chance to throw some higher percentage passes, we have an SEC caliber stable of running backs for the first time in a couple of seasons, and presumably a fully healthy group of receivers. The new-look offensive line doesn’t concern me at all, because, well, I’ve lived through the last two seasons. At this point Kevin Steele and co. have earned my utmost confidence that the defense will pick up right where they left off.

Tigers 37 - Cats 12

-AU Chief

Man alive I wish I wasn’t so worried about this. Kentucky is well coached. They know what they are, and they don’t try to do things outside their comfort zone. Their strengths could cause problems for us. And yet, Auburn has more talent. 2020 is going to be a weird year, but I think having better athletes is going to win out more often than not, because teams are going to have to keep things simple. I like everything I’m hearing out of fall camp. I still don’t know about that line though. I could see a backdoor cover for UK where Auburn has to recover an onside kick to clinch things. I could see a front door cover for Auburn putting the game away late. I’ll stay on the safe side.

Auburn 24

Kentucky 17

(Auburn wins, UK covers; under)

-James Jones