I’m been procrastinating as long as I could, but it’s time to write this.
One the one hand, a lot of things are lining up for Auburn. It is a night home game for them, and they had College GameDay there this morning which always gets the fans fired up. They are coming off a loss to Arkansas, and good teams (like Auburn is) rarely lose two games in a row. In addition, Florida traditionally has never played well at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn is essentially playing for its season here, since with a loss it’d be unlikely for them to get to a BCS game and they’d need Arkansas to lose three conference games to go to Atlanta. Plus, Arkansas beat them with size and brute strength, and that’s not how Florida generally wins games.
Florida, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. UF has won eight in a row, and has already won a big night game in Knoxville in front of probably a louder crowd, and quite possibly against a better team. Chris Leak is as steady as they come, and he’s won games in Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee before. The Gators are coming off of a big win against LSU, and the two quarterback system is really gelling into something special. The defense has bent in every which way, but it hasn’t broken and now with a full week of practice with Marcus Thomas back on the defensive line will only make them better. The offense also gets DeShawn Wynn back and Percy Harvin should be about 100%.
Now the bad. Auburn has been listless the past two games, nearly losing to South Carolina and getting demolished by the Pigs. Brandon Cox is really beat up, and Kenny Irons has been merely average in big games this year. If UF punter Eric Wilbur does as well as he did against LSU, then Auburn will be faced with long fields and the proposition of going 70 to 80 yards on the Florida defense. The Tigers’ defense has had serious issues stopping the run lately, and now they face a healthy Wynn and they’ll also have to deal with Harvin and Tim Tebow busting out of the backfield for potentially big plays.
Florida’s biggest problem, besides history saying that they’ll struggle at Auburn, is what Urban Meyer calls the Florida Nonsense. It’s all of the buzz and the press about the team. There were dozens of stories about Tebow’s touchdowns, how Florida might run the table, how they are in the national title race, and how they might not be in the top two when the BCS standings come out. Well, Florida definitely will not be in the top two if it listens and starts getting a big head. The Gators are at their highest ranking since anyone on the team came to this school. Also, Florida has yet to put a full game together with bad penalties, sloppy play, untimely turnovers, and unfortunate timeouts marring their play.
I will not be surprised whichever team wins. I am going to pick Florida though, and not just because I’m a homer. The offense has been getting better, and with a healthy Harvin it will get even better. Remember after UCF when people were comparing him to Reggie Bush? He’s not Reggie Bush, but he’s a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Wynn is not as fast at the Arkansas backs, but if he is healthy and ready to go he could punish the Tigers’ defense. Auburn also does not have the corners to cover all of Florida’s receivers. It’s hard to describe just how much of an advantage UF has when comparing receivers.
Auburn having lackluster wideouts also mitigates the Gators’ biggest weakness on defense – the secondary. Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have been great and good, but they still give up too many passing yards. Basically though, if you stop Kenny Irons you stop Auburn and Florida’s front seven (plus Tony Joiner blitzing most likely) will get to both Irons and Cox in the backfield.
I expect this will be somewhere between the Tenenssee game and the LSU game. I don’t think it will take a 4th quarter comeback, but the Gators won’t put it away early in the second half either. Still, I’m feeling something in the 24 – 16 range. We shall see.
One last thing – I’ve referred to Auburn as the WarPlainsTigers because they have three nicknames: the Tigers, the War Eagle(s?), and the Plainsmen. Alabama fans give all sorts of reasons why, but they have issues themselves somehow making the Crimson Tide into an elephant. The Plainsmen is the vestigial one of the three, rarely coming up as far as I can tell. Auburn fans yell “War Eagle!” to each other instead of something like “Go Gators!” and they have an eagle fly to the 50 before every game. Finally, the Tigers are what they generally go by to everyone else. I don’t get it exactly, but I’m sure there’s convoluted stories behind them all.