Well, there's one less Top 10 SEC team for Bret Bielema to worry about.
In a week when college football's Southern caucus went on a full-press campaign against Ohio State's purportedly laughable schedule, No. 6 Auburn -- the SEC media's preseason favorite to win the league; a trendy playoff pick by certain pundits -- very nearly suffered the sport's most embarrassing upset since Appalachian State-Michigan. The Tigers, a week removed from some shaky signs in a win over Louisville, ultimately survived FCS power Jacksonville State in overtime 27-20, but not before raising serious questions about their 2015 squad.
Ohio State, it should be noted, does not play an FCS opponent. I'm sure SEC apologists will find a way to spin that as an unfair advantage.
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Those so high on Auburn in the preseason were banking on two presumptions -- that new coordinator Will Muschamp would resurrect the Tigers defense and that touted quarterback Jeremy Johnson would deliver on the promise he'd shown in limited action to date. The first part has mostly come true. While Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins gave Auburn's D fits at times with his zone read mastery, allowing 4.9 yards per play is hardly a debacle.
That an FCS team held a 20-13 lead at Jordan-Hare Stadium late in the fourth quarter falls primarily on Gus Malzahn's offense -- and Johnson is a big part of that. The junior has a big arm and a big frame but for two straight weeks now he's thrown mind-numbing interceptions. His five picks in two games are just two less than predecessor Nick Marshall threw all of last season.
But easily the most baffling of Auburn's problems is its very average rushing attack. We're so accustomed to seeing Malzahn's teams rack up 250-300 yards per game we just assume that will always be the case. But not until a late fourth quarter 71-yard drive were the Tigers able to just line up and run the ball down their opponent's throat -- and even that ended with a Roc Thomas fumble in the red zone. Auburn was fortunate to get the ball back once more, with Johnson finding Melvin Ray in the end zone for the game-saving touchdown that forced OT.
Not since Tre Mason left for the NFL two years ago has Auburn had a true game-breaking tailback. Peyton Barber, who finished with 125 yards on 23 carries, has shown flashes of it so far, but for whatever reason Malzahn has not yet made him the bell cow. Maybe that will change now.
The important thing is that Auburn won. Plenty of team have shaken off early upset scares and gone on to have great seasons. But the hype surrounding the Tigers figures to quiet down considerably this week.
Maybe we'll even be spared the SEC West meat-grinder narrative for a bit. Right up until next Saturday's LSU-Auburn clash starts it anew.