Saturday, 6 p.m. CT, Jordan-Hare Stadium
ESPNU (Play-by-play: Clay Matvick; Analysis: Matt Stinchcomb; Sideline: Dawn Davenport)
Line: Auburn -16 | Over/under: 59
Series history: Auburn leads 1-0
Last meeting: Auburn 40, Washington State 14, Sept. 2, 2006, Jordan-Hare Stadium
Washington State (last season: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12)
Head coach: Mike Leach (second year: 3-9; 12th year overall: 87-52)
Offensive coordinator: Leach (spread/ air raid) | Defensive coordinator: Mike Breske (3-4/multiple)
This isn't like starting the year against a top-10 Clemson team, but Washington State should provide plenty of pushback, and Saturday night's contest should feature intrigue. Auburn is currently favored by 16 points, but it's pretty doubtful the final gap between the Tigers and Cougars will be that wide. With a thin secondary, Gus Malzahn's team will have difficulty stopping Mike Leach's air raid attack, and if Auburn's offense, with a new quarterback, takes some time to get rolling, we could be in for a nervous evening.
That's not to say Auburn shouldn't be favored. Yes, Washington State is in Year 2 under Leach, but like the Tigers, the Cougars are coming off a 3-9 season. And in terms of raw talent, the matchup isn't even close. Fundamentals and execution could be an issue for Auburn in the first game under a new regime, but if it comes down to talent vs. talent, the Tigers should find a way to win.
KEY COUGARS ON OFFENSE
Connor Halliday, QB -- Halliday split time at quarterback last season with Jeff Tuel, who will start in the Buffalo Bills' regular-season opener against the New England Patriots. Standing 6'4, Halliday has good size in the pocket, but he was fairly inconsistent as a passer in 2012. He threw for 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns in nine games, but he only completed 52.2 percent of his throws and tossed 13 interceptions.
Dominique Williams, WR -- If the air raid is going to be successful, Halliday will need receivers to catch some passes. Williams recorded 546 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, and with leading receiver Marquess Wilson gone, he's in line for a much bigger role in the offense. He could be the go-to guy.
Gunnar Eklund, LT -- Also, if the air raid is going to be successful, Halliday needs to stay upright. With Dee Ford out, protecting the quarterback's blind side will be a bit easier for Eklund, but Auburn will throw a few rush specialists at the 6'7, 305-pound sophomore.
KEY COUGARS ON DEFENSE
Darryl Monroe, LB -- The best way to stop Malzahn's offense is to clog the middle and get in the backfield early, blowing up a play before it can start. Monroe, one of WSU's middle linebackers, will play a key role in that effort. As a freshman in 2012, he had three sacks and tied for the team lead with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Deone Bucannon, FS -- Auburn wasn't the only team to have a safety compile the most tackles last year; Washington State was in that boat, too. Bucannon had 106, and he added a sack, two tackles for loss, four pass breakups and four interceptions. He's a senior and has good range at safety, so if Nick Marshall makes a bad decision and throws one up for grabs, Bucannon could be in position to make the Tigers pay.
Ioane Gauta, NT -- Like Bucannon, Gauta is one of the few seniors on Leach's team, so he'll be asked to provide leadership and production. And like Monroe, he had 5.5 tackles for loss last year, and it'll be his job to help clear the middle for WSU's linebackers.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Highlights from Gus Malzahn's Tuesday press conference
- Undercover Barner: Guess who's back
- Projecting the Tigers' depth chart for the opener
- Monday's news and notes on the Cougars
- Auburn football preview 2013: Projecting the November schedule