The marquee matchup of college football’s opening weekend takes place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday, as the Washington Huskies clash with the Auburn Tigers. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m., with ABC televising the game nationally. The consensus spread is Auburn -2.5, with the Tigers seemingly having a home-field advantage at this neutral site. The total is hovering at 48 points.
Washington and Auburn enter the 2018 season ranked sixth and 10th, respectively, in the coaches poll, making this only game between two top-10 teams this weekend. Both clubs have playoff aspirations, so a win here would look tremendous on their résumé at the end of the season.
The Huskies were a little unlucky in 2017, as they were bitten by the injury bug all year long, yet posted a 10-3 record after a one-score loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. They return a whopping 75 percent of their starters from a year ago, including dynamic quarterback-running back combo Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin.
Browning is a 39-game veteran that posted a phenomenal 43 TDs in 2016 but just 19 last year after top wideout Chico McClatcher went down with an ankle injury. The loss of tight end Hunter Bryant to a knee injury didn’t help either. Gaskin has run for over 4,000 yards and 45 TDs in three seasons as a Husky.
Washington’s offensive line is littered with All Pac-12 first team candidates and possible NFL prospects according to many scouts, so they should be up to the task against Auburn’s daunting defensive line.
On defense, the Huskies return All Pac-12 safeties Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh along with seven additional starters. Vita Vea is no longer there after heading to the NFL, but this is still a menacing unit that was fifth-best in points per game allowed a year ago.
Auburn, 10-4 in 2017, had plenty of pieces plucked away by the pros but reloaded with the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the country.
The offense still goes through quarterback Jarrett Stidham, one of the better players at his position nationwide last year, and Kam Martin should ease some of his workload as a potential 1,000-yard runner this season.
However, Auburn’s inexperienced offensive line drew a tough matchup on Saturday. Also, Ryan Davis, the school record-holder for receptions in a season (84), is back but two of Stidham’s other options (Will Hastings and Eli Stove), were lost early in training camp due to injury, per athlonsports.com.
Auburn’s defense is good enough to keep their team in any game, but Washington’s offense is just too potent compared to that of the Tigers, who may need a couple of games to adjust with new personnel coming in. Neither club has much margin for error here.
Prediction: Washington wins, 31-24
The play: Washington +2.5