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Barnhart's burning questions for Week 3

9 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

Auburn, Ala. - Those of us who follow college football for a living do a lot of projecting.

Sure, we watch teams and analyze what they have done on the field to date. But we also try to figure out what they WILL do in the future and use that as part of our evaluation.

Is that fair? Probably not but, hey, that's what we do.

Which brings me to Auburn.

With the best (sorry, Clemson) defensive line in the country and a proven quarterback (Jarrett Stidham) it is pretty clear that the Tigers match up physically with the likes of Georgia and Alabama. Because Auburn plays them both on the road this season, as opposed to last season when Auburn beat them both at home, a lot of folks are projecting that the Tigers are going to come up short in their pursuit of another SEC West championship.

And there is no doubt that Auburn has one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Tigers have already beaten a Top 10 team in Washington on Sept. 1 in Atlanta. In addition to the road trips to Georgia (Nov. 10) and Alabama (Nov. 24), Auburn must go to improved Mississippi State (Oct. 6) and high-scoring Ole Miss (Oct. 20). The Tigers also host Texas A&M in November.

"When you look at our schedule, it's a man's schedule," coach Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday. "There are not too many schedules out in the country like ours."

The point is that, because of who they play and where they play them, No. 7 Auburn is going to have to fight to get a lot of love this season.

So our first Burning Question for the third Saturday of the season is this:

What is it going to take to change the narrative a lot of folks have about Auburn?

A good start would be to take care of business on Saturday when Auburn (2-0) hosts No. 12 LSU (2-0) at Jordan-Hare Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS). LSU came out of the gate strong, beating Miami (33-17) in its opener on Sept. 2. Last season Auburn blew a 20-0 lead at Baton Rouge and lost 27-23. If Auburn can avenge that loss, they could get to November at 8-0.

Then the love will come.

Now for the rest of our Five Burning Questions:

How many points are going to be scored in Saturday's game between Alabama and Ole Miss in Oxford?

Here's the deal. It looks like Ole Miss, with a talented quarterback in Jordan Ta'amu and one of the best sets of wide receivers in college football, can score 40 on just about anybody. The Rebels have scored 123 points in their first two games with Texas Tech and Southern Illinois.

They are also last in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 34 points per game.

Alabama, which visits Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) is second in the SEC in scoring with 108 points (54 ppg) against Louisville and Arkansas State.

So this begs the question, and this is for entertainment purposes only: How many total points will be scored in Saturday's game in Oxford? The guys who do this for a living say the number is around 71. I say it will be north of that.

Last week, Ole Miss scored 76 points against FCS representative Southern Illinois but gave up 41. It looks like it is going to be a very breathless night at Ole Miss.

Does Vanderbilt have a shot at Notre Dame?

The Commodores (2-0) have looked pretty impressive in their first two wins over Middle Tennessee State (35-7) and Nevada (41-10). A big reason why they are 2-0 can be found in Vanderbilt's turnover margin, which, to my mind, is the most important stat in football.

Last season, Vanderbilt forced only nine turnovers in 12 games. The Commodores turned the ball over 14 times, meaning they were minus-5 in turnover margin.

Enter new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who told me this spring that this statistic would be a point of emphasis for this season.

Through two games, Vanderbilt has forced six turnovers and lost two, which is plus-four. That's tied for third in the SEC.

Notre Dame (2-0) was impressive in beating Michigan (24-17) on Sept. 1 and had a letdown game with Ball State (a 24-16 win) last Saturday. If the Commodores can force 3-plus turnovers, they could make things interesting in South Bend (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

Will Kentucky come out flat against Murray State?

It is certainly possible and, to be honest, could you blame them?

There is no way to overstate how big last Saturday's Kentucky win at Florida was in the grand scheme of the program that has been built by Mark Stoops. Breaking the 31-game losing streak to Florida was one of those "firsts" that serves as a milepost to progress. Remember that in his first season (2013) in Lexington, the Wildcats went 0-8 in the SEC.

But to be a good team, you have to be able to move on when things go good or bad. You have to be able to turn the page. What Kentucky needs to do on Saturday (Noon ET, SEC Network) is take care of Murray State (0-2) early and then get its guys off the field. All hands to be on deck and well-rested with Mississippi State (2-0) coming to Lexington next week.

What will be the mood in The Swamp?

Florida fans were not only stunned with the 27-16 loss to Kentucky - the first time the Wildcats have won in The Swamp since 1979 - they were pretty unsettled about the fact that Kentucky literally lined up and blew the Gators off the ball with 303 yards rushing. The reality is that Kentucky was a better team at quarterback, running back and on both lines of scrimmage. And a lot of Florida fans are probably having a tough time accepting that.

"No. 1, we got our tails kicked, OK?" Todd Grantham, Florida's defensive coordinator, told the Gainesville Sun newspaper. "You can't hide that."

No, you can't.

With big trips to Tennessee and Mississippi State coming up in the next two weeks, what will be the sense of urgency on Saturday when the Gators host Colorado State (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)? The Rams (1-2), coached by former Georgia quarterback and assistant Mike Bobo, rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half to knock off Arkansas 34-27 last week.