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Defensive back Malkom Parrish gets a lift in the coveted Spike Squad shoulder pads after his fourth-quarter interception sealed the deal on Georgia's 24-10 victory over South Carolina Saturday.

What college football experts are saying about Georgia-Auburn

Cy Brown

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College football experts weigh in on Georgia-Auburn

This year the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has ramifications well beyond the Southeastern Conference. This year it’s one of the biggest games of the season.

The No. 1 Bulldogs and No. 10 Tigers both have College Football Playoff aspirations, although Georgia’s path is a lot more clear. According to FiveThirtyEight’s model, Georgia will have a 70 percent to make the CFP if it beats Auburn. Those chances drop to 42 percent with a loss on the Plains. To put it another way, a win over Auburn leaves open the possibility Georgia can qualify for the CFP even with a loss in the SEC Championship Game.

The situation is more dire for Auburn. It’s pretty much do or die. The Tigers are a long shot to make the CFP. But with Georgia and Alabama still on the schedule — plus another game with Georgia in the SEC Championship should it win out in the regular season — Auburn has enough quality opponents left on its schedule to become the first two-loss team to qualify for the CFP if it can win out.

On paper, Auburn is as good a matchup for the Dawgs as any team they’ve faced this season. Georgia is favored, but barely, rolling into Auburn as a 2 1/2-point road favorite. Both teams have the talent and toughness to win this game and it could go either way. Georgia may be a slight favorite, but a hostile Jordan-Hare Stadium packed full of Tigers  fans who know how much is at stake will make for a rowdy atmosphere and a dangerous Auburn team.

Although this has all the making of a tight game, most college football media members whose picks I aggregated picked Georgia to win. Nine out of 12 (including two analytics), in fact, picked Georgia to win the game.

“Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm will make some clutch throws against Auburn’s defensive backs and Tigers coach Gus Malzahn’s play-calling issues will creep up in the second half to cost the Tigers a shot at the SEC West, SEC title and a berth in the College Football Playoff,” Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports wrote.

Alex Scarborough of ESPN picked Georgia because he believes Auburn will find it difficult to move the ball on a staunch Bulldogs defense.

“Some of the jet sweeps and horizontal running that worked against A&M just aren’t going to fly against Georgia,” he wrote. “That front seven is too good and too athletic. Besides, I don’t see Auburn having the difference-makers at receiver to keep the defense honest. I think this is a low-scoring game in which Auburn’s offense has trouble moving the ball consistently and Georgia does just enough to pull out a tough road win.”

As Bill Connelly of SB Nation — whose analytical concoction S&P+ is predicting a Georgia victory — noted, Auburn’s success or failure making big pass plays could be the key to the game. Missouri is Georgia’s only opponent to score more than 20 points against the Bulldogs, and it averaged 16.9 yards per completion and had two touchdown passes of 63 yards in a loss. But opponents that aren’t Mizzou are averaging only 8.7 yards per completion against the Dawgs. Auburn must closer to the Missouri end of that spectrum to beat Georgia.

[I]n Darius SlaytonWill Hastings, and Nate Craig-Myers (combined: 80 targets, 40 catches, 956 yards), he’s got a nice trio of deep threats. It is imperative that [Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham uses] them.

In the 13 losses since the start of 2015, Auburn has averaged 9.4 or fewer yards per completion six times. Granted, the opponent has had a role to play in that, either via great secondary, effective pass rush, or both. But some risk will probably be required for the Tigers to pull off a huge rivalry win. When a Malzahn offense goes into a shell, wins don’t tend to follow.

Below are picks from select college football media members. All these picks are straight up, but some of these media members did include picks against the spread. Check the links included for that info as well as some score predictions.

Sam Khan Jr. ESPN UGA Joe Tansey Bleacher Report UGA
Alex Scarborough ESPN UGA Mitch Light Athlon Sports UGA
Paul Myerberg USA Today AUB Tom Fornelli CBS Sports UGA
Dan Wolken USA Today AUB Zac Al-Khateeb Sporting News UGA
Andy Staples Sports Illustrated UGA S&P+ SB Nation UGA
Bruce Feldman Sports Illustrated UGA FPI ESPN AUB

Dawgs in the red zone

A lot of folks have slept on Fromm and Georgia’s passing game because of how little Georgia has aired it out this season. After his performance against South Carolina, I think the tide has turned a bit. Many fans now see Fromm for what he is: an extremely efficient, young passer who isn’t asked to do much, but gets the job done when he is.

Malzahn is not someone who has slept on Fromm. He noted Fromm and Georgia’s acumen in the red zone as something that will challenge his Tigers. From Michael Niziolek of Auburn Undercover:

Malzahn credits Fromm for helping boost Georgia’s No.1 red zone offense (offense scored 97 percent of the time inside the 25-yard line) and strong third-down conversion rate (51.2 percent). The former 5-star quarterback has at least one passing touchdown in each of Georgia’s nine games.

“He’s been on the money on some of those throws, specifically in the red zone, and been very accurate,” Malzahn said.

Familiarity breeds contempt

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a man intimately familiar with Auburn and Jordan-Hare Stadium. Not only did he participate in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry as a player for four years, he also took part in the Iron Bowl as a member of the Alabama coaching staff for nine more.

“I have been there a lot throughout my coaching career,” Smart said, according to Chip Towers of DawgNation. “They get loud in there, and they do a really good job of creating an environment. They feed off of that. So, the challenges are in front of us. We will find out a lot about this team playing on the road. It’s a tough place to play against a really good football team.”

(FYI, Smart’s 9-8-1 against Auburn as a player and coach.)

The 10th man

Seth Emerson fielded an interesting question in his DawgNation mailbag. It’s a bit off-topic for what’s going on in the Georgia football world, and will get more play come December or January, but interesting nonetheless: When colleges are allowed to hire a 10th assistant in January, who does Smart hire?

A lot probably depends on whether a current coach gets a better job elsewhere, opening up a slot with the potential to shake things around. Or if Scott Fountain, whose work on special teams has apparently yielded good results, gets another offer, and Smart decides he needs to keep him by making him special teams coordinator. (Shane Beamer can just do tight ends in that case.)

‘That’s exactly how it should be’

Ryan McGee of ESPN did a big spread on live mascots, and you can’t write about live mascots without writing about Uga. The piece doesn’t include any info about Georgia’s most revered dog that Bulldog fans won’t already know, but this quote from Mark Richt might be my favorite quote I’ve ever heard about Uga.

No matter the cause, whenever a Uga finally departs this mortal coil, he makes one final fancy trip to Athens, to rest for eternity inside a mausoleum by Gate 9 of Sanford Stadium.

“Those funerals are like something you’d see from the memorial service of some head of state,” says former head coach Mark Richt, who buried three Ugas during his time at Georgia. “And that’s exactly how it should be.”

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