Two teams with their eyes on the College Football National Championship kick off their 2018 seasons in a huge Week 1 contest. The sixth-ranked Washington Huskies take on the No. 9 Auburn Tigers Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET from Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The hungry Huskies want to prove their 2016 College Football Playoff appearance, in which they were crunched by Alabama 24-7, was no fluke. This is the first-ever matchup between the Pac-12 and SEC squads, who are well aware that the winner gets the inside track to securing one of the four coveted College Football Playoff slots. Auburn, which went 10-4 last year, ended the season on a sharp thud when it was whupped by Georgia 28-7 in the SEC Championship before losing to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.
Before you lock in any Auburn vs. Washington picks, you need to see what SportsLine's Larry Hartstein has to say. Hartstein combines a vast network of Vegas sources with an analytical approach he honed while working for Pro Football Focus. And loaded with decades of college football expertise, he is a perfect 4-0 in his previous four Auburn selections and is riding a 4-1 Washington streak.
Now, Hartstein has scrutinized Washington vs. Auburn from every possible angle to reveal a strong point-spread pick that he's sharing only at SportsLine.
Hartstein knows Washington is thrilled to have quarterback Jake Browning back behind center. The senior slinger threw for over 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017 -- down from his 2016 numbers. Owing partly for that drop-off was the loss of speedy wideout John Ross, now in his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Coach Chris Petersen's Huskies hope they can count on Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller to pick up the slack. Fuller, a junior, caught 26 balls for 291 yards last season. Thankfully, trusty Myles Gaskin remains a steadying presence in the Washington backfield. He's coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard-plus season and is always a threat to pick up first downs on screens and dump-offs.
But the Huskies aren't the only ones sporting game-changing offensive weapons. The Tigers are coming off a 10-4 campaign in which they averaged 218 rushing yards per game. Losing Kerryon Johnson and his 1,391 yards will be difficult to replicate, but Malzahn has faith in Kam Martin, who put up 453 yards and three scores in 2017.
Complimenting the ground game is quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 3,158 yards and 18 scores in 2017. His go-to wideouts are Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton. Davis, a senior, snagged five TDs and over 800 receiving yards last season, while junior Slayton corralled 643 yards and five touchdown receptions.
Defensively, both teams are stout up front. The Huskies ranked fourth in the nation against the run in 2017. They'll need to be stiff against the Tigers, who love to pound the rock. Auburn was stingy last season in scoring defense, allowing 18.5 points per game and held six opponents to 14 points or less.
We can tell you Hartstein is leaning toward the under, but he has uncovered a critical X-factor that will determine the spread outcome of this game -- and he's only sharing it over at SportsLine.
So which side of the spread should you back for Washington vs. Auburn, and which critical stat will be the X-factor in this SEC vs. Pac-12 contest? Visit SportsLine now to see which side you need to be all over, all from the expert who's riding a spectacular 8-1 streak involving these two squads.