When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Arlington, Texas
The line: Auburn by 3.5
1. Big game for both teams: Not only can this game set the tone for the season, it can also establish the winner as a potential playoff contender. Auburn would still have the daunting task of maneuvering through a tough SEC schedule, but a win against Oregon would alleviate some fears. Oregon has the potential to win the Pac-12, and a win over an SEC opponent gives the Ducks instant credibility.
2. Stopping Justin Herbert: Whether Auburn beats Oregon could depend on what kind of job it does defending Oregon’s veteran quarterback Justin Herbert, who opted to stay in school instead of throwing his name in the NFL draft ring. Herbert threw for 3,153 yards and 29 touchdowns last season and has thrown TD passes in 28 straight games — the longest streak in the nation. The Ducks have averaged 38 points when Hebert starts at QB.
3. Auburn’s offense: Gus Malzahn is back calling plays. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? And he’ll be calling them for Bo Nix, a true freshman quarterback. Malzahn wants the Tigers to get back to playing with a frenetic tempo. A couple of things have to happen for that. The Tigers need to be able to run the ball more effectively that they did last season and Nix has to be able to keep the chains moving. Oh, and the offensive line play has to be better than it was last season. It should be because it is a veteran group.
4. Oregon’s defense: Auburn is facing a little bit of an unknown when it comes to Oregon’s defense due to a change in coordinators in the offseason. Andy Avalos, formerly of Boise State, replaced Jim Leavitt .One thing is certain, the Tigers will face one of the nation’s top linebackers in Troy Dye, who also decided to return for his senior season.
Oregon offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
Auburn’s defensive line has a chance to be scary good this season. Led by Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown, it has a chance to control games with simply a three-or four-man rush. Their ability to get after the quarterback and engage multiple blockers should allow a relatively inexperienced linebacking corps to make a lot of plays. If Oregon’s offensive line can hold up, Herbert could have a big game through the air. If Auburn’s D-line get the best of Oregon’s O-line, it could be a long night for the Ducks quarterback.
Player of the week
Bo Nix, freshman quarterback: Nix beat out redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood for the starting job, and now it’s time for him to show what he can do. Groomed from the time he first threw a pass for this moment, Nix will feel pressure to live up to the hype.
By the numbers
2: Number of opponents Oregon allowed to pass for more than 300 yards last season (Stanford and Washington State). The Ducks return multiple starters in the secondary, including cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir and safety Jevon Holland.
369: Auburn record for total offensive yards by an individual in a season-opening game, set by Bo Nix’s father, Patrick Nix, against Ole Miss in 1995.
73: Years since the last (and only other) time Auburn started a true freshman at quarterback in a season-opener — Travis Tidwell in 1946. No team in the SEC has done it since Tennessee in 2004 (Brent Schaeffer).
1,333: Total yards gained by Oregon running back CJ Verdell as a true freshman last season. He was the only Power 5 player in the nation who went over 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving.
Auburn 31, Oregon 28: If Nix lives up to the hype and the Tigers can run the ball effectively, there’s a good chance they will win this game. Oregon has an explosive offense, so expect the Ducks to score some points. Look for Auburn to hold on for an exciting win as Nix begins his development as a potential start in the SEC.
— Gregg Dewalt