Sputtering Auburn Headlines Week 3 Thirsty Thursday

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Feeling a bit parched early into the 2015 college football season? The Auburn Tigers should be, scraping by to a 2-0 start with an offensively anemic showing against Louisville, then surviving against Jacksonville State because of inexplicable end-of-game management.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema don’t exactly see eye-to-eye often, but the two are kindred spirits in that their teams are thirsty for dramatically improved play in Week 3. The Tigers and Razorbacks sputtered last week in a win and loss, respectively, that dented the SEC West’s armor.

Arguably the division’s biggest win thus far is Texas A&M’s defeat of Arizona State in Week 1 — though the Sun Devils’ underachievement in Week 2 puts a damper on the Aggies’ golden ticket into the Top 20.

AUBURN TIGERS

Let’s be frank: Auburn’s Week 3 visit to LSU is only a matchup of Top 25 teams because Auburn was ranked highly in the preseason poll. Had the Tigers opened around 20, like SEC West counterpart Arkansas (more on that in a bit), they’d have dropped out following last Saturday’s sluggish performance.

Auburn certainly could leave Death Valley with a victory, as I have my doubts about LSU despite escaping Mississippi State, but forget winning for a moment. If Auburn plays as it did the last two weeks, it will be summarily routed. I may not (yet) buy LSU as a viable SEC West title contender, but the Bayou Bengals are always tough at home.

“It’s been a while since we won there,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn noted on this week’s SEC coaches call. One must go back to 1999 for the last Auburn win in Baton Rouge.More lackadaisical play ensures the 41-7 blowout a year ago will be repaid in kind.

Auburn’s sleep-walking against Ohio Valley Conference and new FCS No. 1 Jacksonville State prompted one Alabama state senator to stump for a legislative end to kickoffs before noon local time.

That’s a rather pathetic suggestion for myriad reasons, only exacerbated by the timing. Per AL.com, Sen. Paul Bussman perfectly summarized Trip Pittman’s suggestion:

“We have a ridiculous ability to come into this chamber and talk about football. I’m ashamed to be in this body right now.”

BRET BIELEMA

BERT’s big mouth helped put the SEC in schadenfreude last week. Bret Bielema popping off about Ohio State’s schedule fueled both omnipresent SEC chest-thumping, as well as one of the dumber segments in Paul Finebaum Show history.

Talk about thirsty. The delusional and preemptive excuse-making for Ohio State’s dominance is the proverbial mirage in the desert for the SEC’s biggest homer.
Then, of course, Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks lost to Mid-American opponent Toledo.

Bielema’s foolhardiness transcends the college game. Getting clowned on by an NFL coach — one recently with the New York Jets, no less — has to be salt in the wound.

Arkansas returns to its true home of Fayetteville to renew its Southwest Conference rivalry with Texas Tech. The Razorbacks drubbed Tech in Lubbock a year ago, and is a two-touchdown favorite Saturday. Of course, the Hogs were favored by three scores a week ago in Little Rock.

A win over a Big 12 Conference opponent, even a Big 12 team that finished near the league’s basement a season ago, removes some of the bad taste Arkansas has from the Toledo loss. A second straight loss, however, is the soap to wash out Bielema’s mouth.

If the Hogs fall to 1-2 this weekend, the SEC might ship Arkansas back to the defunct SWC.

TEXAS LONGHORNS

September’s already been a wild month for Texas football: a historically awful loss at Notre Dame, former head coach Mack Brown absolving himself of the program’s current struggles, and this week, the firing of athletic director Steve Patterson.

The chickens are coming home to roost, and coming to Austin to collect on one longstanding debt are the surging Cal Golden Bears. Brown’s politicking last week pales in comparison to the bully pulpit he took, demanding Texas bypass Cal for a berth in the 2005 Rose Bowl despite the Golden Bears’ sole defeat coming in the final seconds to consensus No. 1 USC.

Cal is on six decades without a Rose Bowl appearance, so this remains a sore subject for Golden Bear fans. Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said his players were “10 years old” when that situations went down, which is a great point. The Rose Bowl snub shouldn’t have any motivation for this year’s Golden Bears, but they probably don’t need any additional fuel for this marquee opportunity.

Texas may be down, but it’s still Texas. More importantly, Saturday’s game is at Texas. A Cal win sends it into Pac-12 play 3-0, halfway to its first bowl game since 2011 (which, coincidentally, was a Holiday Bowl defeat to Texas).

Cal’s ability to score points in bunches, juxtaposed against Texas’ offensive inefficiency thus far, is the perfect recipe for a blowout. Charlie Strong’s team doesn’t necessarily need to win — though it would certainly help — but it can’t afford to be on the wrong end of another rout.

THE MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

The Mountain West’s dismal 1-11, cumulative record in Week 2 is actually worse than it looks: The lone win was Air Force over MWC counterpart San Jose State.

Had Colorado State won its overtime contest against Minnesota, or had Boise State batted down BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s fourth-down, Hail Mary throw, the forecast wouldn’t be nearly so dreary for the conference. As it stands, however, the league as a whole needs to recover in a Week 3 slate that includes five games against the Pac-12 and two against the Big Ten.

Boise State will recover against in-state, FCS foe Idaho State. Colorado State’s rivalry matchup with Colorado is always competitive and either can win any year. This season’s installment should be no exception.

A few of the MWC’s Week 3 games can be chalked up as losses. Air Force, the Mountain West’s sole unbeaten, isn’t a match for Michigan State, even if Troy Calhoun’s spin on the option is difficult to prepare for. Wyoming, which is off to a shockingly slow start in losses to North Dakota and Eastern Michigan, will have its hands full at Washington State.

New Mexico’s Friday night trip to Arizona State would have gone in the automatic-L category, had the Sun Devils not just get all they could handle from Cal Poly.

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

In all likelihood, Arizona State isn’t losing to New Mexico. Winning is what matters, as Todd Graham pointed out in his weekly press conference.

“We’re moving on, and that’s for you guys to fill out paper and talk about all that crap that don’t matter,” he said. “But you go win.”

Should — or when — the Sun Devils win Friday, they’ll enter Pac-12 play 2-1. But there’s an obvious frustration in Graham’s assessment of a 35-21 defeat of Cal Poly that was anything but awe-inspiring.

How Arizona State wins is almost as important as it doing so Friday. A popular pick to win the Pac-12 South, the Sun Devils need to show they can dominate. They’ve done anything but through two games, uncharacteristically rolling over in the fourth quarter to A&M and going into the final period tied with Cal Poly.