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The season opener pits Auburn against Mercer, a Southern Conference team that finished 7-3 last season.
The Bears run an unconventional offense with a number of option elements, meaning eye discipline will be key to limiting Mercer offensively. On the other hand, quarterback Fred Payton has not proven to be overly dangerous. If the Tigers keep him between the hash marks, it could be a long day for the Mercer offense.
Defensively, Mercer should have trouble consistently standing up against a power-running attack. Auburn will have plenty of opportunities to create size matchups to its advantage.
Prediction: Auburn 45 - 10
The Spartans are coming off a 5-7 season and hoping to find an identity in 2022. They should be much improved with more experience and depth than last season. The Spartans also added two good pieces on the offensive line through the transfer portal.
Offensively, the addition of former Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro gives San Jose State a more explosive attack. The Tigers will need to work on containing him.
In the end, San Jose State doesn’t have enough to slow down Auburn for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Auburn 38 - 17
The Nittany Lions have something to prove coming off a 7-6 season and head coach James Franklin could soon have real questions to ask if 2022 doesn’t show an upward trend.
Sean Clifford returns at quarterback, but he will be behind a somewhat suspect offensive line. On defense, Penn State has been stingy in past years, but they need to find a more consistent pass rush.
This will be a tough test for Coach Harsin’s squad and possibly a bellwether game for the season. At the moment, Penn State is the favorite in Vegas.
Prediction: Auburn 27 - 24
2022 will be a big season for Coach Eliah Drinkwitz, but it’s not clear how much better Missouri will be than it was in last season’s 6-7 campaign. The quarterback position is still very much up for grabs and the defense didn’t add many pieces to a squad that struggled much of the season.
A balanced attack by the Auburn offense should be key against Missouri.
Prediction: Auburn 34 - 24
The Bayou Bengals are just 11-12 since their undefeated national title season. Coach Brian Kelly has his work cut out for him as he tries to rebuild LSU into a contender.
LSU entered camp without a clear starter at quarterback, but they return one of the nation’s top wide receivers in Kayshon Boutte and a solid running back in senior John Emery Jr. The offensive line returns three key players, but is a question mark in general.
With Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Matt House now running the defense, LSU’s defense should be slightly improved. The front should be their greatest asset, with the secondary a rare question mark in Baton Rouge. Only two defensive backs on the roster saw significant playing time last season.
Prediction: Auburn 30-27
The returning national champions also return a starting quarterback in 6th-year player Stetson Bennett. Even with the losses of Zamir White and James Cook, they still return one of the nation’s best running back groups.
Don’t expect the Bulldog defense to take many steps back either as they deal with key departures. UGA is still loaded on defense.
Playing in Athens will be a tough test for the Tigers in their first road game of the season.
Prediction: Georgia 37-24
Auburn gets its second road test of the season against an Ole Miss squad hungry to take a step up from last season’s 10-3 mark. Coach Lane Kiffin has the program on an upward trajectory.
The quarterback between USC transfer Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer has been an interesting one, with many believing Altmyer has the inside track. Runnings backs and wide receivers are big question marks for Ole Miss, with those slots being filled by up-and-comers and transfers.
On defense, Ole Miss is likely to play the same bend-don’t-break system they have in the recent past. They will rely heavily this year on the strength of their defensive backfield to limit big plays.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35-30
The Razorbacks quietly won nine games last season and, in many ways, turned the corner from a program down in the dumps. Much of that owes to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, whose team led the SEC in rushing.
The Hogs return an awful lot on offense, including an offensive line that is about as good as any in the league. With quarterback KJ Jefferson at the helm, that’s a strong combination.
Arkansas has plenty of work to do on the defensive side of the ball, especially in terms of creating a pass rush. Both teams have bye weeks leading into this matchup. Auburn manhandled the Hogs in Fayetteville last season with Arkansas the Vegas favorite, but are likely to have the upper hand coming into Jordan-Hare.
Prediction: Arkansas 34-28
Coming off a 7-6 season, Coach Mike Leach’s team is hoping to make a statement in 2022. It will come into the home match-up against Auburn with a bye week following a road test in Tuscaloosa.
Quarterback Will Rogers is a tested veteran and has shone in Leach’s high-octane system and receivers Jaden Walley and Austin Williams are a handful for any defense. The offensive line is in rebuilding mode, which could be a question mark for Leach’s pass-happy offense.
On defense, the Bulldogs should be even better than the squad that allowed just 345 yards per game last season. The biggest question? Can they find a pass rush.
The Bulldogs overcame an 18-point deficit last season to beat Auburn at home. At home, cowbells clanging, they likely won’t play from behind coming off a bye week.
Prediction: Mississippi State 36-31
Expectations are sky high in College Station coming into 2022. Now it’s time for Jimbo Fisher to deliver.
The Aggies have all the talent to make a playoff run, but question marks remain. At quarterback, Haynes King, LSU transfer Max Johnson, and newcomer Conner Weigman are all vying for the role. Wide receiver positions are also up for grabs and will likely be filled by several newcomers. The Aggies also return three of five on the O-Line.
On defense, one question looms large. How fast can the freshman make an impact? The Aggies were undefeated last year when allowing fewer than 20 points and won just one game when allowing more than 20. With a jackpot of talent from last year’s signing class, they’ll count on a number of new faces to shine.
The Aggies travel to the Plains off of a home matchup against Florida, which could be a factor. Last year’s matchup was a stinker, with the Aggies holding Auburn to just a field goal in front of the home crowd. Expect more scoring this year, but not a different outcome facing Fisher’s squad.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27-17
The Hilltoppers went 7-1 last season in conference play and have gone to 7 bowls in the past eight seasons. Coach Tyson Helton has the Western Kentucky in a good spot and hopes to keep it there.
Last year’s squad averaged a whopping 44 points and 535 yards per game, good for second nationally. Quarterback Jarret Doege has made his way from West Virginia to Bowling Green and now to the Hilltoppers, with plans to sling it. Skill positions are major question marks for Western Kentucky, but they did well in the transfer portal.
On defense, the Hilltoppers do little more than try to slow down opponents. 3rd down was a huge problem last year and the pieces don’t look much different in 2022. Auburn should take care of business here, but it will require some focus against a team on the upward trend.
Prediction: Auburn 45 - 30
Saban’s squad slithered from the jaws of defeat last year on the Plains, mounting an unlikely drive to force overtime. This year’s squad has playoff ambitions and returns much of the core that got there last season, including the disruptive Will Anderson and Heisman winner Bryce Young, a pair that many believe might take the first two slots in this year’s draft.
On offense, the Tide return signal caller Young and have added experienced running back Jahmyr Gibbs, a Georgia Tech transfer. The offensive line returns three starters and adds Vanderbilt transfer Tyler Steen to fill the void at left tackle. And while the receiver position remains somewhat of a question mark, Alabama did well in the transfer portal in filling gaps.
The expectations in Tuscaloosa on defense are high. The duo of Will Anderson and Dallas Turner present a real challenge for any pass pro package and the front seven has depth and experience. The secondary is loaded, adding LSU transfer Eli Ricks to a group that was already high quality.
Early lines from Vegas have Auburn as much as a 24-point underdog in this match-up, but the Iron Bowl often doesn’t follow the script.
Prediction: Alabama 37 - 20