Line: Auburn by 10.5
1. Another successful debut: With a 31-24 victory over Washington State last week, Gus Malzahn became the ninth Auburn head coach since World War II to win in the first game of his tenure on the Plains. The only Tigers coach to lose his first career game in the post-World War II era was Doug Barfield, whose Auburn squad was beaten by Arizona 31-19 in 1976. (The Tigers went on to finish that season 4-7.)
2. Record-setting opener for Red Wolves: Arkansas State became only the seventh team in FBS history to have four players (David Oku, Fredi Knighten, Michael Gordon and Sirgregory Thornton) rush for 100 or more yards in the same game, which it accomplished last week against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Red Wolves finished with 509 rushing yards, the fifth-best mark in school history and the second-most in the Sun Belt Conference’s records.
3. Facing a familiar foe: Malzahn is far from being the first Auburn coach to square off against a school he formerly led. Tommy Tuberville went 7-3 against Ole Miss, Terry Bowden was 1-0 against Samford, Pat Dye went 2-0 against East Carolina, Jack Meagher was winless against Rice (0-2) and Mike Harvey won his only meeting against Alabama in 1902, shutting out the Crimson Tide 23-0.
4. A young man’s game: At just 36 years old, Arkansas State head coach Bryan Harsin is the fourth-youngest man at the helm of a Division I program. The only coaches more youthful than Harsin are P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan (32), followed by Toledo’s Matt Campbell and Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, both of whom are 33.
Arkansas State backfield vs. Auburn front six: Auburn’s defensive line and linebackers in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme struggled mightily last week. The Tigers’ defensive line had just 10 tackles split amongst seven players, with little success getting any push up front and into the Washington State backfield. The linebackers were an even bigger non-factor, as they tallied just five stops, with four of those coming from Kris Frost. They’ll try to slow down Arkansas State’s most explosive option in the backfield, Oku, who transferred from Tennessee and led the team in rushing last season with 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Red Wolves also have faith in Knighten, Thornton and Gordon, which means they won’t have a problem keeping each player fresh.
Each of these teams have a good idea what the other will do given that Malzahn spent a year teaching his hurry-up, no-huddle philosophy to the Red Wolves. On that same token, Malzahn knows the strengths and weaknesses of nearly every player on Arkansas State’s roster. The deciding factor won’t be difficult to spot come Saturday: Auburn simply has more athletes. The Red Wolves will at least keep it close for a half until the Tigers start to pull away and distance themselves from their Sun Belt Conference foe. ... Auburn 38, Arkansas State 20