We'll break down the matchups in this post. As usual, there's never a great way to do this. To compare both teams' wide receivers, for instance, seems silly, because they won't match up against each other on the field. But things get confusing when you try to compare matchups. Who do you put up against one team's running backs? The linebackers?
For the time being, I'll compare the teams by positions (QB vs. QB), just to give a sense of who has more talent (spoiler: it's Auburn). But I might switch this up as the season goes on. I'm open to suggestions if anybody has them.
Arkansas State at No. 22 Auburn
- Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
- TV: Fox Sports Net
Cam Newton is the new kid on the block, but he's got plenty of natural talent. He put up video game numbers at Blinn (Texas) Community College, throwing for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns and running for 655 yards and 16 more scores. He hasn't played in the SEC in a minute, but things should come back quickly. ASU sophomore Ryan Aplin threw for 889 yards in nine games last year, completing 65.3 percent of his passes. But he's getting used to a new offense too. Edge: Auburn.Running backs
Mario Fannin is the starter, but Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer will get plenty of touches in the opener. That gives the Tigers plenty of fresh options and a variety of styles to throw at the Red Wolves. The only one missing is a true bruising back, with Ladarious Phillips out with an ankle injury (although Eric Smith can move from H-back if needed). Arkansas State lost last year's leading rusher, Reggie Arnold, to graduation. The next highest total on the team, other than Aplin, was junior Derek Lawson, who finished with 244 yards. Edge: Auburn.Wide receivers/tight ends
Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery combined for 86 catches, 1,474 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, not bad for a 1-2 punch. They're both back, and the Tigers are excited about the prospects of youngster Trovon Reed (if he can go). They also like what they've seen from converted quarterback Kodi Burns, who has had a full year to work as a receiver now. Arkansas State lost its top five pass catchers from a year ago. Trevor Stockemer, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is the leading returner, having caught 16 passes for 347 yards last season, although junior college transfer Dwayne Frampton is intriguing. Edge: Auburn.Offensive line
The strength of Auburn's offense, four seniors -- Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Ryan Pugh and Byron Isom -- have combined to make 127 starts in their careers. They paved the way for the Tigers to run for 212.0 yard per game on the ground last season, the 13th best mark nationally. Arkansas State is experienced up front. All five of their linemen are seniors, four of them being fifth-year players. And right tackle Derek Newton was a second-team All-Sun Belt pick last year. Unfortunately, they don't quite stack up to Auburn's group. Edge: Auburn.Defensive line
Auburn's group is both old and young, with four seniors and a junior starting and three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman on the two-deep. Antoine Carter hopes to be the disruptive force that Antonio Coleman was last year, but the Tigers need better play from their tackles, especially at stopping the run. Arkansas State has to replace Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and Buffalo Bills draft pick Alex Carrington, who had 14.5 TFLs and 9 sacks last year. But three others starters are back. DT Bryan Hall, the SBC preseason Defensive Player of the Year, finished with 9 TFLs last season. The group was 30th nationally against the run. Edge: Arkansas State.Linebackers
Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are the rocks on Auburn's defense, having made 48 combined career starts. Both are up for essentially every national preseason linebacker award there is. Converted safety Daren Bates could shore up the Tigers' third LB spot, although Eltoro Freeman, if he can shake of a case of turf toe, could be a factor too. For Arkansas State, Demario Davis is a preseason All-SBC pick after making 80 tackles last year. He leads a talented group that returns three starters, a reason the Red Wolves finished first in the Sun Belt last season in total defense. Edge: Auburn.Secondary
Auburn welcomes a host of injured safeties back to the field, with Zac Etheridge (neck) and Aairon Savage (knee, Achilles') starting and Mike McNeil (leg) as a backup. That allowed Demond Washington to move back to his natural position at cornerback, along with potential breakout player Neiko Thorpe. This could be a talented group in the injured players return to form and a reliable third cornerback emerges. The Red Wolves return strong safety Kelcie McCray (58 tackles, 4 INT, 3 FR) but will have to make up for losing both starting cornerbacks from last year. Edge: Auburn.Kicker/punter
The only way place-kicker Wes Byrum can improve this year is to be perfect. Punter Ryan Shoemaker, meanwhile, hopes he can regain his 2007 form, when he was a second-team All-SEC pick. Arkansas State's kickers aren't as clear-cut. The depth chart lists true freshmen Bobby Zalud and Brian Davis or sophomore Brandon Parker as the kicker. None have kicked a field goal in a college game before. Punter Neely Sullivent is new too. Edge: Auburn.Return specialists
Washington emerged as a home run threat last year on kick returns, taking one to the house against Georgia. McCalebb is another speed threat who seems like he's capable of breaking a big one at any moment. Quindarius Carr is likely the top option at punt returner. If he can catch the ball, it'll be a radical improvement from last year. Arkansas State has two new kick returners, Frampton and Tausean Holmes. Neither returned kicks last year. Frampton, a junior college transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, is also the new guy on punt returns. He was a Junior College All-American. Edge: Auburn.Coaches
Things are looking up in Gene Chizik's second year. The entire coaching staff is back and, from all indications, things have been running smoothly this August. Chizik did a good job of getting his team up for home games. Auburn was 6-2 at Jordan-Hare last year. Arkansas State's Steve Roberts has made the team competitive since moving up from the I-AA ranks, but he struggled last year to a 4-8 record with what was considered one of his most talented teams. Edge: Auburn.Prediction
Auburn is the better team and should be able to handle this one easily. Arkansas State has a good defense, but I'm not sure it can keep up with the Tigers for a full game. And while the Red Wolves' up-tempo offense might catch some of their conference opponents off guard, it's nothing new to Auburn's defense, which sees it every day in practice. Final score: Auburn 45, Arkansas State 20.