Because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday this year and that’s the domain of the NFL, college football’s biggest day of bowl action moves to Jan. 2. And a spectacular day of football concludes with the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans — also the last bowl before the national championship game — as No. 14 Auburn faces No. 7 Oklahoma in New Orleans. It looks to be a shootout with a high total on Sports Interaction NCAA odds.
Auburn Tigers vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Point spread: Sooners -3
Date: Monday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Auburn (8-4) played in the final BCS National Championship Game following the 2013 season, nearly upsetting unbeaten Florida State. That was Gus Malzahn’s first season as head coach of the Tigers. But Auburn won’t stand for being in rival Alabama’s shadow. So after Auburn slid to 8-5 in 2014 and 7-6 last year, Malzahn was fighting for his job entering 2016.
Things weren’t looking good for Malzahn when the Tigers lost two of their first three games, both at home to Clemson and Texas A&M. The turning point for this team was a Sept. 24 home game against LSU. It appeared the visitors won the game on a Danny Etling TD pass as time expired, but officials rule that the snap came just after the clock ran out. That result did two things: spurred Auburn to a six-game winning streak and saw LSU fire head coach Les Miles.
However, Auburn didn’t close the season strong, losing 13-7 at Georgia on Nov. 12 and 30-12 at No. 1 Alabama in the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl. Thus the team’s only quality win all season was over LSU. To be fair, top running back Kamryn Pettway and quarterback Sean White weren’t fully healthy at the end of the season. White missed the final two games with an injured throwing (right) shoulder and Pettway was out against Georgia and Alabama A&M before being very limited in the loss to the Tide. You can see why the offense struggled in those two losses. Both are good to go in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn is a run-heavy team with 599 rush attempts to 262 passes. Pettway had 1,123 yards and seven TDs on 185 carries and Kerryon Johnson rushed 173 times for 862 yards and 11 scores.
Frankly, Auburn is lucky to be in the Sugar Bowl. If LSU can punch it in from the 1-yard line on two tries against Florida late in the regular season, then LSU is likely in this game. Or if Tennessee isn’t upset by Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, it’s the Vols who are probably in New Orleans. It’s Auburn’s first trip to this game since the 2004 season. Last year, the Tigers won the Birmingham Bowl 31-10 over Memphis. Auburn is 9-3 against the spread this season.
You are supposed to schedule tough out-of-conference opponents these days to improve your chances to make the College Football Playoff. Many expected Oklahoma to reach the national semifinals for the second year in a row as the Sooners were preseason No. 3 in the country. But their tough schedule would be their downfall. OU was dominated in its opener, a 33-23 defeat to Houston. Two weeks later, Ohio State came to Norman and punished the Sooners 45-24. That loss essentially ended Oklahoma’s chances at the playoff, while the win was a big reason OSU got in.
The Sooners (10-2) wouldn’t lose again, however, as they largely rolled through the Big 12 schedule. Their final seven conference wins were all by double digits. Oklahoma claimed the Big 12 title with a 38-20 home win over No. 10 Oklahoma State to close the regular season. The Big 12 is the only Power 5 league without a conference title game but will add one next season.
Oklahoma has one of the best offenses in the nation, ranking No. 3 in scoring (44.7 ppg) and in yards per game (557.0). Coach Bob Stoops had two Heisman Trophy finalists in quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook. It was only the fifth time ever and first since 2004 that one school had two finalists. Mayfield, who finished third in the voting and said he will return to school next year, leads the nation in passer rating (197.8; the FBS record is 191.8) and completion percentage (71.2) while throwing for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns. Westbrook, who was fourth in the Heisman voting and will be NFL-bound, caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was slowed by a hamstring injury in the first three games and 1,311 of his yards and all 16 of his school-record TDs came in the final nine games.
It’s the 18th straight bowl game for Oklahoma and first trip to the Sugar Bowl since the 2013 season. Last year, the Sooners lost to Clemson 37-17 in the Orange Bowl national semifinal. OU is 6-6 ATS this season.
Sugar Bowl Prediction
Auburn and Oklahoma have played just once, in the Jan. 1, 1972 Sugar Bowl. The schools did have a common opponent this year: Louisiana Monroe. OU beat the Warhawks 59-17 on Sept. 10 and the Tigers did 58-7 on Oct. 1. I like the Sooners here, but take them at -2.5 (-133). Go over the total.