During the 2019 football season, The Villager will run comments from a focus group on results of the previous Auburn University game and a prognostication for the upcoming game. We’ve collectively labeled the group, Panel of Wanna-Be Experts, or POWE! for short.
Here are the panel's comments for the Tigers' Outback Bowl showdown vs. Minnesota:
Remember a year ago when several national sports writers picked a 6-6 Purdue team to take down Auburn in the Music City Bowl?
Their thinking, supposedly, centered around the Boilermakers’ 5-4 finish in the Big 12 with upset wins over traditional powers Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Auburn at 7-5 was less than a touchdown favorite over Purdue, and the Tigers were judged by some as likely uninspired after coming off season-ending deflating losses to rivals Alabama and Georgia,
Then, there was the matter of Coach Gus Malzahn’s dreadful bowl record of 1-4.
So, if Purdue didn’t win outright, many expected it would certainly cover the spread and battle Auburn down to the wire.
What happened? The Tigers blew the doors off the Boilermakers, 63-14, and it really wasn’t that close since Auburn called off the dogs after building up a 56-0 halftime lead.
Now comes the 2019 bowl season with No. 12 Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC) facing another touted Big Ten team, this time in the Outback Bowl. Despite beating three ranked teams, including No. 7 Oregon and No. 9 Alabama, and playing the third-hardest schedule in the nation, the Tigers are only about a touchdown favorite over the No. 18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten).
Like a year ago, some pundits speculate Auburn won’t be motivated because the Tigers, after beating Bama, expected the Cotton Bowl, or at least the Citrus.
But when Auburn looks in detail at what’s ahead of it on Jan. 1, it will see a Minnesota team that reeled off seven straight wins to open the season, rose as high as No. 8 in the rankings, and was in the playoff picture until stubbing its toe at 20th-ranked Iowa on Nov. 16.
Auburn will be facing a three-headed monster in a Gopher offense that’s a major threat at quarterback (nearly 3,000 yards passing, 28 TDS against only six picks and a 66 percent completion rate), a pair of receivers, each with 1,000 reception yards, and a running back who eclipsed 1,000 yards.
And the Minnesota defense was also pretty scrappy, only allowing 313 yards per game — good for fourth place in the Big 12.
Its signature win was a 31-26 upset of then-No. 4 Penn State on Nov. 9.
So, the 2019 Big Ten team brings a stronger resume than the league’s 2018 representative.
But Auburn’s season wasn’t done when it beat Alabama; the Tigers are seeking their second 10-win season in three years.
And Auburn’s superior physicality, athleticism and across-the-board talent will ultimately be too much for Minnesota. The Tigers wear down the Gophers in the second half and give Malzahn his second bowl win.
Make it: Auburn 38, Minnesota 17.
Bob Lowry, retired political reporter for United Press International, and three daily newspapers
2019 has been a very good year for Auburn University Sports. Final Four in men’s basketball, World Series in baseball, playoffs in softball, and winning the Iron Bowl. The Iron Bowl victory was a needed win that made the difference between an average season to a good season. 9-3 with a bowl win will put you in the top 10 final poll and a 10-win season. Not too Bad. In today's evaluation of successful teams, you have to make the College Football Playoffs. This will be the sixth year of the CFP and Auburn has not made the list.
I have not been a strong supporter of Gus Malzahn. I have now changed my mind. I wasn’t sure he was the one to lead us in the future. We have to have the right person at Auburn when Coach Saban retires. This year's recruiting class consists of seven of the top 10 athletes from the state of Alabama signed by Alabama. We have to take over the recruiting in Alabama once Coach Saban is gone. Even with all the great athletes and wins that Coach Tuberville had over Alabama, we never out recruited the Tide in our Great State of Alabama. I now think Coach Malzahn can be the coach to take over the recruiting in Alabama. Who else could be better? Only one other coach in the SEC has beaten Coach Saban.
This year’s Iron Bowl was special. As I have been shopping around Auburn and Opelika, I have seen fewer stores with Bama caps and sweatshirts than in the last five years. Jordan-Hare Stadium has become the most feared place to play in the nation. We have great fans.
The Outback Bowl should be a good trip. It looks like all of our players will be going to the bowl game. The weather should be good. Bowl practice is a good opportunity to look at future players for next year. Auburn has played in Tampa several times. This will be Minnesota’s first Outback Bowl and the first time to play the Auburn Tigers. Minnesota is a very complete team and well coached. Their biggest win was an upset over Penn State. Penn State was ranked No. 4 at the time. Minnesota is built with big lineman, like most Big 10 teams. They have two great receivers and a good QB.
Auburn’s future looks great with Bo Nix coming back. The addition of Coach Chad Morris should be good for our offense. He and Gus have a good relationship.
Should be a Great Outback Bowl game.
The Tigers are hungry: Auburn 35, Minnesota 21.
Wendell McLain, Auburn retired brigadier general, Alabama National Guard
On New Year’s Day, Auburn will square off against Minnesota in the 34th playing of the Outback Bowl. This is the first time the Tigers and Golden Gophers have faced one another, making Minnesota the 84th different Division 1 school Auburn has played in its history. On the line for Auburn is the second 10-win season in three years. For Minnesota, they are playing for their first 11-win season since 1904. On the line for both are conference bragging rights.
This game will be one last chance for Tiger fans to watch this defense and this defensive line do their thing. They will be going against the largest offensive line they have played all season. The Gophers average 340 pounds across the line including a massive 6-8 400-pound left tackle. Although sporting a lot of beef up front, I expect Auburn’s quickness to pose problems as they try to protect the quarterback and run the football.
Through the air, the Gopher’s QB set single season team records for yardage and touchdowns, throwing 28 against only six interceptions. On the ground, they feature the second-team Big Ten running back who is the school record holder for all-purpose yardage. He ran for over 1,000 yards in 2019, averaging more than five yards per carry and scoring eight TDs. Two formidable challenges for sure.
Defensively, the Minnesota player to watch is Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and team-leading tackler Antoine Winfield Jr. The son of a former NFL DB, he is a ball hawk, snatching down seven interceptions and chipping in three sacks on the season. I saw him play against Penn State and he is fun to watch.
Minnesota had some narrow misses against bad teams to begin the season, but put it together en route to a 10-2 final record. In the end, Auburn is faster and more talented than their Big Ten foe. It won’t be a walk-over game like last season’s Music City Bowl thrashing of Purdue, but the Tigers really should take care of business. Auburn is 8-4 in bowl games against Big Ten opponents and 2-2 in the Outback Bowl. Add another one in both win columns as Aubie takes down Goldy the Gopher 27-17.
Lee County district attorney
At noon on New Year’s Day, Auburn takes on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota for the first time ever despite the fact that both schools began their football programs well over 125 years ago. I believe this matchup will be a tricky one for our Tigers.
We are, of course, still coming down from the incredible high of beating Alabama in one of the most intense games ever played between these two intense rivals. Last Wednesday, we also had a very productive Early Signing Day, resulting in one of the best classes in recent history with 22 players already in the fold for next season, giving Auburn a No. 7 recruitment ranking according to 247 Sports. But I digress. On to the next order of business, the Outback Bowl.
Coached by P.J. Fleck, the Big 10’s Coach-of-the-Year, Minnesota, with a 10-2 record, wants to prove that it can hang with the SEC. They got a power win over then No. 4 Penn State, which catapulted them to a No. 8 ranking as they were 9-0 before an unexpected, narrow loss to Iowa and then an old fashioned 38-17 whooping by Wisconsin to end the regular season. They have not one but two wide receivers as well as a running back with 1,000 yards each; their quarterback has thrown for 3,000 yards with 28 passing touchdowns, and they also have an exceptionally strong secondary. In short, though the term “Golden Gophers” might not sound formidable, this is not a team to be taken lightly, and I don’t think Auburn will do that.
The fact that our formidable senior defensive line, led by Lott IMPACT Trophy player-of-the-year Derrick Brown, is returning to play speaks volumes for the unity of our team and its determination to finish the season as just that: a unit. These guys have provided vital leadership all year long to the entire team and I expect them to do the same in Tampa.
Bo Nix grew up a lot during the season and by the time Alabama came to town, he led the offense to 34 points (with the other two touchdowns compliments of pick sixes by our defense, their first scores of the season) and seemed much more poised than he had just a month or so earlier. I am expecting him to begin 2020 on a high note, giving our seniors who provided so much support all season long a reason to celebrate in the Sunshine State.
The Golden Gophers have achieved a number of firsts this year, including their first 10-win season in 114 years, their first win over a top five team, and their highest national ranking (No. 8) ever. A win in the Outback Back would mark their first 11-win season ever. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Instead, I predict a Happy New Year for the Auburn team, coaches, and fans to the tune of Auburn 38-Minnesota 24.
Betty Burgess, retired English teacher, Auburn grad and lifelong Auburn fan
The pairings are in and as all know by now it is going to be Tigers versus Rodents in Raymond James Stadium on New Year’s Day. Interesting fact: the Golden Gophers have been playing football for long while. Since 1882, which happens to be 10 years before Auburn began its pigskin business. Another fact: NFL Hall of Fame member and Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy played for Minnesota.
I’m not sure how those facts will make a difference in the upcoming contest but they do have that going for them.
The gophers had a decent season, finishing up with 10 in the “W” column ,which most teams would be glad to have. A signature victory over a highly ranked Penn State bunch at home was the season high point, but things dulled a bit with a loss to Iowa on the road and a home whipping by a bunch of badgers.
Regardless, Coach Fleck has done a good job and his guys sound like they are looking forward to tangling up with the good guys at high noon in the sunshine state.
The gophers like to throw a bit more than run and combined they average about 426 yards a game. They also convert over 50 percent on third downs, which is good by any standard.
The Tiger defense has probably noticed that the gophers have allowed 26 sacks this season and I bet our big dogs Brown, Davidson and, well, our Big Kat are licking their chops to add to that number.
Some might say that the Donahue Drive Crew is a mite less inspired by not getting a New Year’s Six assignment, what with the elephant whooping and all. I don’t believe that is the case.
I think the Tigers come out on a mission and will give a solid effort to bring the win column up to double digits and send our seniors off with a win to start the year.
I’m thinking our guys may take a hint from what the head groundskeeper at Bushwood Country Club told Bill Murray,” I want you to kill all the gophers.” Now I don’t mean literally but more in a football sense of course! AU 38, Minnesota 17.
Jay Jones, Lee County sheriff