Considering what lies ahead, Texas A&M better beat Auburn. It’s that simple.
Ideally, the 17th-ranked Aggies will play their most complete game of the season and Kellen Mond will perform like the Southeastern Conference’s best quarterback. In a perfect world, A&M will have the game wrapped up by the end of the third quarter. Then again, A&M can play a so-so or even below average game, just as long as it wins.
So much is riding on this game, in part because A&M should have beat Auburn last year. The Aggies were the much better team for three and a half quarters, but Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 7 of 8 passes for 125 yards on the last two possessions to pull out a 28-24 victory. A&M had a 28-13 edge in first downs, a 203-19 edge in rushing yards and 28 more snaps but lost because it had two costly turnovers. Auburn slept through much of the game but didn’t have a turnover. The Tigers had the better quarterback and a home crowd. This time those advantages are in A&M’s corner, but the concern if you’re an Aggie fan is to what degree.
The visiting team in the series won the first six Southeastern Conference meetings, and it should have been seven until last year’s improbable ending. Now the pressure is on the Aggies to prevent the Tigers from having the first three-game winning streak in the series and a victory that could be the start of something special.
Auburn has reasons to be confident. Besides having never lost at Kyle Field, the Aggies are 5-10 against ranked teams at home since joining the SEC, though they have won the last two, beating No. 13 Kentucky and No. 8 LSU last season. Mond was the quarterback in those victories, and he gives the Aggies a huge edge in experience with a 16-8 record as a starter. Stidham, who is backing up Tom Brady in New England after leaving Auburn a year early for the NFL, has been replaced by highly touted freshman Bo Nix, who will be making his first true road start.
Nix was rated the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback by 247sports.com, which also had him as the nation’s 33rd best recruit in the class of 2019. Impressive, but Mond was ranked the third best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2017 as the nation’s 110th best recruit. Mond has proven himself by beating Nick Starkel for the starting job last season and now has started 16 games for Jimbo Fisher. Kyle Field is his house. It’s not a threatening place for Nix — i.e., vulgarities and other things won’t be thrown his way — but it’s the SEC’s largest venue. Nix was playing on a high school field a year ago, so Kyle Field likely will feel intimidating for the rookie.
Mond’s 25th start is just as big as Nix’s fourth, maybe more so. The A&M offense, which was expected to be a strength, has underwhelmed. Mond has four turnovers with an interception in every game.
Those mistakes have been a reminder of past ones such as the Auburn game, when the Tigers turned a pair of Mond turnovers into touchdowns. The loss wasn’t all Mond’s fault, but he takes the blame. A&M also couldn’t defend the pass and had trouble tackling in the last six minutes when everything fell apart.
This year the offensive line and receivers haven’t helped Mond be his best. Mond has been hit too many times; against Clemson, his receivers dropped seven passes and the offense had five penalties.
Mond and his linemen will get a chance to make a statement against Auburn’s defensive line, which is better than Clemson’s. Auburn is led by 6-foot-5, 318-pound tackle Derrick Brown, who is projected by cbssports.com to be the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Auburn’s best chance at winning is pressuring Mond into mistakes and forcing A&M’s offense to sputter as it did in the 24-10 loss to top-ranked Clemson. If Auburn can keep it a low-scoring game and protect its freshman quarterback, it can win this game.
A loss to Auburn doesn’t end A&M’s season, but if the Aggies can’t beat the Tigers at home, what chance will they have against No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia or No. 4 LSU? And if Nix plays a big part in pulling off the upset, there will be those wanting A&M true freshman Zach Calzada to replace Mond. Everybody loves the backup quarterback, even more so since Alabama won the 2017 national championship game by replacing Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa.
A&M and Auburn have national title aspirations heading into Saturday’s game, but the reality is they aren’t title contenders. Auburn’s odds are 80/1 and A&M’s 250/1.
The hard thing about predicting who is the best team is we know so little about them. Each has played only one quality opponent.
Auburn seems good because it beat 11th-ranked Oregon, which in reality threw away the game. Oregon has since rolled over Nevada and Montana. So again, what do we know about the Tigers?
A&M lost at top-ranked Clemson by only 14 points, covering the spread but almost killing its chances of winning the national title. Its odds had been 70/1. A&M has sandwiched the Clemson game with blowouts of Texas State and Lamar, teams that stood little chance of being competitive.
You have to give Saturday’s edge to A&M because it also had a strong showing against Clemson last year and proceeded to go a respectable 9-4. Auburn opened last season by beating sixth-ranked Washington, which proved to be a good team, going 10-4. Auburn wasn’t a good team, however, turning out to be fool’s gold as it beat only one more ranked team, the Aggies, who gave it away late.
You can see why A&M is favored Saturday but by only a little, because Auburn has struck gold at Kyle Field before, twice helping it win the SEC West.