WHO: Minnesota (10-2) vs. Auburn (9-3)
WHAT: The 34th Outback Bowl
WHEN: January 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL
THE SKINNY: PJ Fleck and Minnesota nearly rowed the boat to a Big Ten title shot before springing a few leaks down the stretch in division play. Regardless of falling shy of the goal of a Big Ten West Division championship, Fleck has Minnesota heading to the Outback Bowl full of confidence in what they can accomplish. Facing them will be an Auburn team led by freshman quarterback Bo Nix who is not at all short on confidence after his first season with the Tigers.
Nix has thrown for 2,366 yards and 15 touchdowns and run for 301 yards and seven touchdowns, so Minnesota will have to be concerned about keeping Nix from extending plays with his feet. For a defense that doesn’t exactly bring a tremendous amount of pressure up front, that could be a recipe for some unfortunate results for the upstart Gophers. It just so happens that Auburn could cause some big problems with their defensive front. The Tigers ranked third against the run in the SEC this season and allowed just nine touchdowns on the ground all year long. Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are among the SEC leaders in tackles for a loss this season. Both players could have skipped the bowl game to focus on their future in the NFL, but both have confirmed they intend to play in the game.
They will hope to find a way to rattle the Big Ten’s leading passer (in yards per game), Tanner Morgan. The sophomore passed for 2,975 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions this season, and he owns one of the highest completion percentages in the Big Ten. Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson each had over 1,000 yards catching a combined 131 passes from Morgan, and each accounted for 11 touchdown receptions in the process.
Minnesota’s offense is as balanced as they come, but whether that will be enough to hold off the Auburn defense may be a tall order for these Gophers. Auburn obliterated Purdue last year. Minnesota will at least keep things considerably closer this year.
THE PICK: Auburn 33, Minnesota 17