No. 8 Auburn faces No. 23 Kentucky in one of the more intriguing games of the opening weekend of SEC football Saturday. The Tigers will count on sophomore quarterback Bo Nix and also feature one of the top linebacker units in the country. Coach Mark Stoops' Wildcats are hoping to get back in the SEC East race under quarterback Terry Wilson and one of the top offensive lines in the country.
Make not mistake, this is a tone-setter.
Auburn has hopes of winning the SEC West for the first time since 2017 and making a push for the College Football Playoff. Kentucky pieced together an offense last season, but it was Wilson who led them into division title contention two seasons ago.
Will the Tigers make a statement, or will Kentucky lay the groundwork for another magical run? Let's break down the matchup and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Auburn: The biggest questions for the Tigers heading into this season surround the line of scrimmage. The offensive line has four new starters and didn't get a normal offseason to build the chemistry that most units need to compete at a high level. Does that eliminate the possibility that this group had a quick learning curve during fall camp? Of course not. But that system, led by first-year coordinator Chad Morris, is predicated on pounding rock. The combination of the new offensive line and a running back by-committee approach makes that side of the ball quite intriguing.
Not as interesting as the defense, though. Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are gone off of the defensive line. Even though Big Kat Bryant is back off the edge, the rest of the group have been rotational players throughout their careers. This is a matchup problem for Auburn because Kentucky has one of the best offensive lines in the country. The world saw just how creative Wildcats offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was last year when he moved Lynn Bowden to quarterback for the last half of the season. If he senses weakness, he exploits it.
Kentucky: The Wildcats will use Wilson and a stable of running backs to get the offense kickstarted. Four of the top five rushers from last year return including Kavosiey Smoke and Asim Rose. The foundation created by that kind of experience makes this offense dangerous. It needs balance, though. We simply don't know how much the passing game will click because none of these receivers were big parts of the run-heavy offense last year. A Kevin Steele defense will exploit an unbalanced offense.
The defense should be fine. Stoops' has that side of the ball on lock, and defensive lineman Josh Paschal is the one holding the keys. They create pressure, force turnovers and don't miss assignments. You'd think those attributes would carry over from year to year.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 26 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium -- Auburn, Alabama
TV: SEC Network | Live stream: ESPN+, fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
I'll take Kentucky and grab those points. No, it's not because I think that the Wildcats will spring the upset. This just feels like an old-school, defense-driven slug fest in which neither team will find much of a flow offensively. Nix should be more of an impact player in the running game, and Morris is supposedly adding more over-the-middle passing elements to an offense that has been lacking in that department. The element of the unknown will jump up and bite Kentucky enough to give Auburn the win ... but not the cover. Pick: Kentucky (+7.5)
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