Smack in the middle of one of the biggest turnarounds in college football this year, the No. 8 Auburn Tigers meet the struggling Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night at Razorback Stadium.
At this time last year the Tigers were 1-7, but they’ve flipped that record under first year head coach Gus Malzahn with impressive victories over ranked Texas A&M and Ole Miss, and could head back to a BCS bowl game.
The Tigers will first have to overcome an Arkansas squad that’s won four of the last five meetings. Auburn barely owns the all-time record at 11-10-1.
Ranked last in scoring offense and 12th in defense in the SEC, Arkansas hasn’t had such good fortune with their first-year head coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks have dropped five straight, most coming against the conference’s top teams, including Oct. 19’s 52-0 rout at the hands of Alabama. In consecutive weeks they faced A&M, Florida, South Carolina, and the Tide and were outscored 179-50.
The Razorbacks could end the streak against an Auburn squad unsure if top quarterback Nick Marshall will even play. Marshall suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s 45-10 victory over Florida Atlanta, and is a game-time decision, according to AL.com.
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Marshall has completed 83 of his 144 pass attempts for 1,148 yards and six touchdowns to four picks this season, and is a certifiable threat on the ground with 461 rushing yards and five touchdowns. If he can’t go freshman Jeremy Johnson, more pocket passer than rush specialist, is expected to start.
Johnson could be asked to be more of a game manager since the Tigers success has come mostly from their fifth ranked rushing attack. Joining Marshall is the two-head monster of Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne. Mason is fifth in the SEC with 753 yards and nine scores, and Artis-Payne is 14th at 7.1 yards per carry for five touchdowns.
Arkansas has their own pair of dominant backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, accounting for 1,409 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The freshman Collins is third in the SEC in rushing, making up for quarterback Brandon Allen’s seven interceptions.
Half of Allen’s eight touchdown passes have gone to top receiver Javontee Herndon, who’s totaled 20 receptions for 330 yards. Hunter Henry is right behind him with 17 catches for 318 yards and one score.
Saturday’s also highlighted by two of the best defensive ends in the SEC. Arkansas senior Chris Smith has anchored the frontline with 6.0 sacks, and Tigers senior Dee Ford also has six takedowns, with both tied for fourth in the conference.
Despite the losses, Bielema and his squad still have their eyes on the postseason.
"These next four remaining games — the games that we're locked in to play — they're going to obviously decide if we have a chance to play in the postseason," Bielema said to AL.com. "But more importantly, give us a good indicator as coaches what we have and what we need to recruit and what we need to have for the future."
Point Spread: Auburn is favored by 8 points
Over/Under: 56 points
Kickoff Time: 6 p.m. Eastern Time
TV Channel: ESPN 2
Where To Watch Online: Watch ESPN
Prediction: Auburn 30, Arkansas 20