Dec. 27, 2017
The Obstructed Peach Bowl Preview: Auburn vs. UCF
The last of the New Year's Six games that are non-playoff happens on, wait for it, New Year's Day. Hard to imagine! Anyway, it pits the best of the "Group of 5" (or as I call it, the "other 5") against the SEC Championship runner-up against Auburn. Looking back at my predictions, I was actually off just a little bit with this late August prediction of the Peach Bowl, but I did say Auburn would be here against USF. Actually, I was somewhat decent with my picks, though Florida State messed me up as did Virginia Tech and LSU, but I will wait until AFTER we crown a national champion before I look back on my assessments of the season. Some ups, some downs, but...well, off topic. My bad.
Auburn enters their second straight game of being at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They obviously had hoped to be there January 8th, not the week before. Heading into the SEC championship Auburn had everything rolling. They waxed Georgia in early November and 2 weeks later decisively handled their hated rival Alabama to win the SEC West and really many penned the Tigers to be THE TEAM to beat in the Playoff. Except, Kerryon Johnson got hurt and Georgia exacted a measure of revenge on Auburn, thumping them in the SEC Championship in Atlanta. The consolation prize was that Auburn gets a New Year's Bowl game.
UCF is heading into the Peach Bowl as the lone undefeated in the FBS, 13-0. Scott Frost, who will coach at Nebraska this upcoming season will have one final moment for his Golden Knights, who are hoping to go out with a giant bang. And the Knights have a lot of pride to the point they are baiting Auburn with some comments made by Frost himself and then running back Adrian Killins.
Probably not a great thing baiting a top team like Auburn, but hey, Auburn may have gotten too happy with themselves after their first meeting with Georgia, notably Gus Malzahn himself. But.....to each their own?
AUBURN WINS IF:
1. THEY FORGET ABOUT THE LAST TIME AT MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM: Let's say that you "had too much" one night and the next morning, you REALLY feel the consequences of your actions. After you get sick and lose whatever you had in your system from the night before, you don't want to see whatever you had for a while. It actually holds true for sports I believe. You go to play a big game where you hold all the cards for a championship and you lose....and then you have to go back there. You don't necessarily want to go back there again anytime soon. It is probably the one thing that I honestly believe may trip Auburn in this game. Losing those kinds of games will always sting and Auburn has the dubious honor of returning to the place where it all ended.
2. KERRYON JOHNSON PLAYS WELL: Auburn fans look at the SEC Championship game as somewhat of an asterisk with it: Kerryon Johnson was not 100% and it showed. He will be near 100% for this game. He should have a good day and it may be enough to give the Tigers a win.
3. CONTROL THE LINES: Auburn impressed me over the season of how they dominated, mostly on the defensive line this year. However, the one thing that showed was in the Alabama game and then again in the Georgia game was the running backs for both the Tide and the Bulldogs were finding holes to run on the Tigers defense. Now the lone difference with Bama and Georgia was Alabama inexplicably stopped running the ball with their backs and Georgia continued running theirs which gave Georgia a beatdown. That said, UCF's line is not necessarily on the same level as either team. So Auburn has to show who is boss. On the other side, the offensive line for Auburn was improved from the beginning of the year. You have a UCF defense who was ranked 107th against the pass and 67th against the run while being 92nd in sacks. Auburn could just bully the Golden Knights in this game and make it over by halftime.
UCF WINS IF
1. AUBURN EXPERIENCES THE HANGOVER: As I said before, most teams who had "destiny in their own hands" and then blew it sometimes have that block in their head or just don't feel like playing a game that they may feel is rendered "meaningless." However, UCF probably did something incredibly dumb and that was talk about how much better they are than Auburn. So I don't know how well this will work out for the Knights.
2. THEY GET TO STIDHAM: In 2 of the 3 Auburn's losses, Stidham was pressured all throughout the game (Clemson, Georgia). While he is not too bad of a runner, Stidham loves to throw the ball and does his best damage that way. If UCF can find ANY pressure on him, they will keep it close.
3. THEY HAVE AN EARLY AND DECISIVE LEAD ON AUBURN: IF the Knights at any point in the first half hold a 10-point lead on the Tigers, expect UCF to continue talking and get in the faces of the Tigers players, who by then may be ready to get back on the Gus Bus and back to the Plains. So I would not be surprised if Frost tries to really go for the kill early and injure a wounded war eagle.
MY TAKE: UCF did a no-no when they were talking about how better prepared they were than Auburn and how the Tigers won't match the speed of UCF. The Knights woke up a sleeping giant. And given how Auburn fans will probably pack in Mercedes-Benz on New Year's Day, it maybe something UCF has never experienced nor will the Knights know what will hit them. I think Auburn will flat-out BULLY UCF in this game from beginning to end. And it will not be the way Scott Frost wants to leave Orlando for Lincoln. AUBURN 48, UCF 17
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat