ARLINGTON, Texas – The task ahead for No. 16 Auburn seems daunting as it opens the season against No. 13 Oregon on Saturday in Arlington, Texas - the first of six games versus teams that are inside the top 13 of the Top 25 preseason poll and fourth away from home. The Tigers will also start a freshman quarterback for the first time since 1946 in Bo Nix, whose father, Patrick, led Auburn to an 11-0 season in 1993 and is seventh in school annals in passing yards.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Auburn -3.5
"If you have a chance, that's good. Now, our schedule is what it is. We're looking at it as a great opportunity,'' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told reporters. "We're not looking at it as a negative. We have to win close games. We've got to have guys step up, we have to stay healthy at the right positions, but it's really exciting now going into the season." The Tigers defense - one of four units along with No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama and No. 12 Washington to finish in the top 15 in scoring defense in each of the last three seasons - will be led by defensive tackle Derrick Brown (6-5, 318 pounds), who decided to return for his senior season and is a strong All-America candidate. Ducks senior Justin Herbert (6-6, 237 pounds) could have been the top quarterback taken in the 2019 draft but instead wanted to continue his studies in biology as he nears graduation with a 4.01 GPA. "He's a different animal," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told reporters while Steve Stop, the Ducks director of academic support, added: "He's an amazing student. He's as competitive in the classroom as he is on the field."
ABOUT OREGON (2018: 9-4)
The offense could explode with Herbert (3,151 yards, 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions) throwing to a deep corps of wide receivers led by freshman Mycah Pittman and graduate student Juwan Johnson, a transfer from Penn State. Sophomore running back CJ Verdell will keep opposing defenses in check after rushing for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 27 passes - two for scores - as a freshman. The Ducks defense will be spearheaded by senior inside linebacker Troy Dye, who led the team in tackles in each of the last three seasons and recorded two sacks and seven pass break-ups in 2018.
ABOUT AUBURN (2018: 8-5)
Sophomore running back JaTarvious Whitlow rushed for 787 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman and could be the key to taking pressure off Nix. The Tigers' top two receivers from last season - Darius Slayton (Giants) and Ryan Davis (Patriots) - are off to the NFL so Seth Williams, who led the SEC in yards per reception at 20.5, could emerge as Nix's top option. The defense returns six players who recorded at least 40 tackles, 11 who had a sack and eight that combined for 11 interceptions on a defense that was 14th nationally in scoring defense at 19.2 points per game.
1. Auburn has won 20 straight games when scoring a non-offensive touchdown.
2. Herbert has thrown a touchdown pass in 28 straight games - the longest active streak in the nation - while Verdell was the only player in a Power 5 conference to record at least 1,000 rushing yards (1,018) and 300 receiving (315).
3. The Tigers defeated the Ducks 22-19 on Jan. 10, 2011 in the BCS national championship game on Wes Byrum's 19-yard field goal as time expired in their only meeting.
PREDICTION: Auburn 31, Oregon 27