Auburn and Arkansas both appeared to be in similar situations heading into the 2013 season. Auburn was 3-9 and went winless in the SEC in 2012, and fired Gene Chizik after the season. Arkansas was 4-8 (2-6) under interim head coach John L. Smith, who was let go as well. Even with those similarities, 2013 could not have gone more differently for the two SEC West programs. Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn exploded to an SEC Championship and played in the BCS National Championship, nearly upsetting undefeated Florida State. Arkansas brought in a more established coach, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, and opened the season 3-0, but dropped their final nine games, and went winless in SEC play.
Arkansas will improve, that is almost certain. While Bielema has been the butt of some jokes this offseason, he is a proven head coach. The scary thing for college football is that Auburn will improve as well. The Tigers were in their first year in a brand new system, with a quarterback in Nick Marshall who had little experience at the position before 2013. Auburn should continue to learn and adapt, and could be even better this season.
Date: Saturday, August 30, 2014
Time: 4:00 PM EST
TV Channel: SEC Network
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn, AL)
Betting Line: Auburn -21 via 5Dimes
Prediction: Arkansas actually fared fairly well against Malzahn's team last year, losing 35-17. Considering they had lost their previous two games to South Carolina and Alabama 52-7 and 52-0, it was certainly an improvement. Holding Auburn to 35 wasn't the easiest thing to do in 2013 either. Bielema's staff has some extra time to prepare for the Tigers' unique offense for this season as well, with the game coming in week one. However, as alluded to above, Auburn should only continue to improve after a full off-season under Malzahn and his staff, especially at the quarterback position with Nick Marshall, who basically went through a trial by fire last year. Marshall won't start this year's game due to suspension, but he is expected to play, especially if things get hairy for Auburn.
On opening day, with a 4 p.m. start which should allow the fans to get really well prepared, Jordan-Hare is going to be rocking. Arkansas should improve to a degree in 2014, but this is not the easiest way to kick-off the year. Look for Auburn to continue to ride its momentum from last year into the week one matchup.