Auburn and LSU?Really Top 6?
RELATIVE SURPRISES AUBURN, LSU IN BIG BCS WAR ON SATURDAY
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
We can't say it's an unbelievable shocker that both Auburn and LSU have good teams this season. Both made the Top 25 in all the Preseason polls. Both had returning talent at positions that mattered. Both were given a chance to at least give Alabama a thrill in the SEC West race even if they weren't expected to win the division.
But, are both Auburn and LSU really amongst THE TOP SIX TEAMS IN THE NATION as they head into a huge nationally televised showdown Saturday afternoon?!
Because Alabama fell at South Carolina, the Crimson Tide now trails their undefeated SEC West brethren in the standings and in the polls. Let's ask these questions though:
- What would you make the line in an Alabama-Auburn game played on a neutral field if it were scheduled after a bye week for both teams? No letdowns. No lookaheads. Just the two teams squaring off mano-a-mano. Would Auburn be the favorite?
- What would you make the line in Alabama-LSU in the same circumstances? Nick Saban vs. Les Miles in a game that matters on a neutral field. Anyone want to make the case that LSU would be favored in that one?
Auburn is -6 this week at home vs. LSU, which suggests Auburn would be -3 over LSU on a neutral field (home field advantage is generally worth three points in the colleges). We believe based on our numbers that Alabama would still be favored in Las Vegas over Auburn right now even with that loss to South Carolina. The Tide would be favored by three points more than that over LSU on a neutral field.
So...already, we have a difference of opinion between an understanding of legal sports gambling, and what the polls are saying.
We don't think Auburn and LSU are "classic" top six type teams. But, there really aren't a lot of truly great teams this year. There's a very large hunk of "pretty good" out there right now. If you win your coin flip games, you're going to rise to the top of the rankings just because pollsters prefer to rank the records because it's the easy way out.
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Let's review some of those coin flips so you can see how close the difference is between being a BCS contender, and not even being the best team in your conference.
AUBURN'S COIN FLIPS
Auburn (-3) won at Mississippi State 17-14
Auburn (-7½) beat Clemson 27-24 in overtime
Auburn (-3) won at Kentucky 37-34
Winning a coin flip on the road is more impressive than winning one at home. So, Auburn's victories at Miss. State and Kentucky are more like six-point wins on a neutral field. That being said...it was just Mississippi State and Kentucky! National powers should beat that caliber of opponent by more impressive margins. Note that the betting markets had those games exactly right, meaning they had Auburn pegged well. The thriller with Clemson was a great game to watch. Auburn fell way behind, and rallied for a dramatic win. Championship contenders shouldn't have to sweat home games with Clemson.
Amidst the non-coin flips, Auburn's big TV win last week over Arkansas certainly deserves a lot of praise. They were fortunate that Hog quarterback Ryan Mallet got knocked out of the game with a concussion. Scoring over 60 points on the Arkansas defense would have won the game anyway.
Let's say it this way. Auburn has ONE performance that would suggest they "might" be the best team in their division. But, three others that suggest their just in the midst of "pretty good" teams that win polling tie-breakers because the coin flips went their way.
LSU'S COIN FLIPS
LSU (-9½) beat West Virginia 20-14
LSU (-16½) beat Tennessee 16-14
LSU (+6½) won at Florida 33-29
Those last two were won at the very last second. It's understating the case to say they "could easily have been losses). They arguably both should have been losses. The #6 team in the country almost lost at home to a Tennessee team that's been badly outclassed on almost a weekly basis this year. We'll obviously give the Tigers credit for the heroics in Gainesville last week...in what's a down year for Florida.
This is why Auburn is favored! Auburn didn't need miracle finishes to win its coin flips. Nothing on the LSU ledge matches what Auburn did last week to Arkansas.
Where does that leave us for this week's game? Some key notes:
- LSU is one of those dangerous teams that's untrustworthy as a favorite because of inconsistent execution, but very dangerous as an underdog because they're so talented. The results above bear that out. They found ways to struggle vs. expectations as favorites vs. West Virginia and Tennessee. Yet, they were right there as almost a TD dog at Florida. Even if you think Les Miles should wear a dunce cap on the sidelines, you have to admit that his teams are dangerous underdogs.
- Auburn is in a letdown spot this week off the huge performance against Arkansas last week. That was a prime-time game on CBS in front of a home crowd that loved the spotlight. The emotions have changed this week. Auburn may have spent too much time reading press clippings about how great they are. The players have been the toast of the campus all week, when they should have been more focused on preparing for LSU.
- Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is now getting a lot of run in Heisman Trophy conversations. That's basically been a kiss of death this season. One by one...guys coming off huge games on TV have fallen back to earth just after the ESPN studio guys spent the week singing their praises. You can bet LSU's defense will be focused squarely on Newton's every move. Is the rest of Auburn ready to carry the load this week?
It seems that every week we're previewing marquee games that can blow up in one direction or another. Hopefully you've noticed that this is what's happening! Most of the time, the underdog is playing a fantastic game and pulling the upset. An exception was Alabama over Florida...where the favorite ran away and hid.
That's a fair assessment for this mid-afternoon TV affair in our view. If LSU's sloppy play creates cheap points for Auburn, we're going to see a replay of last week's Arkansas/Auburn shootout. If Auburn spent too much time reading about how great they were (which apparently happened to Alabama after that Florida win when they should have been preparing for South Carolina), we could easily see upset in the mold of Wisconsin-Ohio State, Texas-Nebraska, Florida State-Miami of Florida, and Michigan State-Michigan.
Note how those eight teams listed all appear in the "pretty good" category (as would South Carolina ...and then Oklahoma and Missouri in a game we'll preview for you tomorrow). The public seems to be falling in love with illusions about this group. Pointspread favorites are given too much credit. The relative parity amongst "pretty good" is leading to a majority of underdog covers. If the dog implodes, the game gets out of hand the other way.
Which way will LSU-Auburn go? That's for JIM HURLEY to know and his customers to find out!
This marquee TV showcase could very easily be part of our huge Saturday package here at NETWORK. Customers get the best plays on the board. This one just might qualify. Then again, we could instead be looking at:
Oklahoma at Missouri (previewed tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK)
Wisconsin at Iowa (will Badgers be flat)
Michigan State at Northwestern (flat spot for Sparty?)
Nebraska at Oklahoma State (big one in the Big 12)
Alabama at Tennessee (has Tide regrouped yet?)
North Carolina at Miami of Florida (defensive dog)
Notre Dame vs. Navy (developing into a rivalry)
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Don't be surprised if LSU-Auburn is in the mix one way or the other. Be aware that one game we purposely avoiding mentioning is going to obliterate the Vegas line by an astounding margin based on the elements in our exclusive team handicapping approach.
It's going to be a college football weekend that people will be buzzing about the rest of the season. That much we can say!
Back with you again tomorrow to preview Oklahoma-Missouri. Admit it, you haven't watched more than a few seconds of any Missouri game all season. DON'T MISS OUR SATURDAY PREVIEW!
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