The Outback Bowl could be a fun game, but at the end of the day, one team is more talented than the other. Auburn has more losses than Minnesota, but not many will be backing the underdog to win outright. The Tigers were -7.5 point favorites with an over/under of 53.5 a week before the game in Tampa.
Auburn has three losses, but you can’t really fault them for losing at Florida and LSU, as well as home against Georgia. They stole a win against Oregon in the opener, gave LSU its toughest game and took down Alabama in the season finale.
Minnesota can’t compare in that aspect mostly because it played in the Big Ten West. Beating Penn State at home was nice, but the Gophers fell to Iowa and then didn’t have enough to contend with Wisconsin in the final home game of the season.
They had a great season en route to a 10-2 record, but barely beating the likes of Fresno State and Georgia Southern earlier in the season doesn’t instill much confidence.
Auburn probably has the best unit in this matchup with its defense and it received good news beforehand that Marlon Davidson will play. The stud defensive end leads a talented group up front.
The Tigers gave up 18.6 points per game, 5.9 yards per pass and 3.4 yards per rush. They’re on the same level as Iowa and Wisconsin, and Minnesota failed to score more than 20 points in each of those games.
The Gophers had a steady offense behind quarterback Tanner Morgan, but he was sacked 11 times against Wisconsin and Minnesota. For the season, he averaged 10.3 yards per attempt for 28 touchdowns and six interceptions, yet it was often the ground game that got the offense going.
Rodney Smith led the way with more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, but Mohamed Ibrahim and Shannon Brooks also usually combined for more than 10 touches per game. Sure, receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson were awesome both with over 1,000 yards, but they won’t get the ball if Morgan doesn’t have time to throw.
Minnesota also had solid defensive numbers, yet those seemed to be skewed by a weaker schedule. The Gophers allowed 22.4 points per game, but they let both Penn State and Wisconsin move the ball freely.
Auburn’s problem all season was its offense behind Bo Nix and that’ll be the question in covering this matchup. Of course, when you can put up 48 points on Alabama, there’s no reason you can’t drop at least 30 against Minnesota.
Nix was never asked to do too much as he averaged 6.7 yards per attempt and completed 57.0% of his passes. It was all about the ground game that averaged 4.8 yards per carry and had a much harder schedule than Minnesota faced. JaTarvious Whitlow was the main guy, but Nix often ran the ball and D.J. Williams became the backup late in the season.
There’s no doubt P.J. Fleck has turned Minnesota around, but playing Auburn in the Outback Bowl is another level for a team that played Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl last season. Gus Malzahn doesn’t have the best bowl record, but when he last played the Big Ten, Auburn dropped Purdue 63-14 in last year’s Music City Bowl.
Minnesota has covered its last four following a straight-up loss, but it’s a little different when the loss was a month beforehand. The under is 7-1-2 in Auburn’s last 10 games at a neutral site and the Tigers have covered their last six non-conference games and are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 as a favorite.
Our Pick – Ultimately, this should come down to what Auburn has what Minnesota doesn’t. A defense. This is a top 20 defense in Auburn while the Minnesota “D” ranks in the bottom half of all college teams.
If both teams come to play and are equally motivated, the talent should win out.