Only three teams in the AP Top 25 poll received first-place votes for Week 7 of the 2014 college football season, and two of them will square off on Saturday. No.2 Auburn visits No.3 Mississippi State in a game that will go a long way in determining the winner of the SEC West.
It comes as no surprise that Auburn is in the early hunt to qualify for the College Football Playoff, since the team fell just short of beating Florida State for last year’s national championship. Mississippi State, though, was not expected to be in this position, finishing the 2013 season with a losing conference record and being unranked for most of September.
Despite their different expectations heading into the season, the two teams have had very similar roads to a 5-0 record. Both teams have had four blowout victories, along with one that was decided by a single possession. They each enter Saturday’s game with two wins in SEC play and two wins against ranked opponents.
Both the Tigers and Bulldogs rely heavily on their rushing attack to score an average of 42 points and 42.6 points per game, respectively. For Auburn, Cameron Artis-Payne leads the way at running back with 594 yards, but quarterback Nick Marshall has also added 392 yards on the ground. Josh Robinson is Mississippi’s State’s No.1 rusher with 592 yards, but quarterback Dak Prescott isn’t far behind at 455 rushing yards in 2014.
Prescott has put up bigger numbers than Marshall this season, totaling 19 touchdowns compared to the 12 scores that the Tigers quarterback has accounted for. Marshall, however, led his team to the national title game last season, and looks to be improving as the year moves along.
In the 2013 head-to-head matchup between the two teams, Mississippi State nearly pulled off the upset on the road. Nick Marshall threw a touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah for the 24-20 win with 10 seconds remaining.
In last year’s win, Marshall had his only 300-yard passing performance, going 23-of-34 for 339 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Bulldogs were able to limit the Tigers’ effectiveness on the ground, holding Auburn to 120 rushing yards and Marshall to just 22 rushing yards on 10 carries.
The Tigers’ run game was unstoppable in their last win, compiling 298 yards on the ground to beat LSU, 41-7. Auburn was one of two top five teams that didn’t get upset in Week 6.
Mississippi State proved that they are for real in their last win, beating Texas A&M by 17 points, and leading by 31 points until the final two and a half minutes of regulation. The Bulldogs picked off Kenny Hill three times in the victory.
Saturday’s contest is the biggest in recent memory for Mississippi State. In the last decade, the Bulldogs have ended the season ranked just once, finishing at No.15 in 2010.
Auburn is a three-point favorite on the road, according to the betting odds at Las Vegas casinos. The Tigers are 3-2 against the spread, while the Bulldogs have failed to cover just one point spread.
Prediction: Mississippi State did a good job against the Auburn running game last season, but Marshall and the Tigers’ offense is even better a year later. The Bulldogs will have trouble scoring against the No.9 defense in college football, and they might come up just short at home.
Predicted Score: Auburn 23, Mississippi State 17