AUBURN, Ala. -- When the College Football Playoff rankings debuted Tuesday, Gus Malzahn and his Auburn team were busy practicing. They didn't see nor care that the committee put them at No. 3, the highest of any one-loss team in the country. They had all their attention on Saturday's matchup with No. 4 Ole Miss.
After all, the Tigers have to take care of business in Oxford before looking ahead.
"I'm viewing this Saturday as, this is the biggest game on the schedule,” Malzahn said. “We've got to go there, we've got to play well to win, and that's the only thing on our mind. I'm not looking ahead, this or that, no. We're going to Ole Miss, and we're trying to win a game."
Key player: RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Yes, he was the key player last week, and he responded with 167 yards rushing and a touchdown. The senior back will be even more important this week. Ole Miss has arguably the top defense in the SEC, but if there's one area it can be exposed, it's up the middle. LSU rushed for 264 yards against the Rebels last week, and it came primarily between the tackles. That's where Artis-Payne thrives for this Auburn team. It's going to be hard to reach 167 yards again, but the Tigers have won all six games that he's reached the century mark this season.
Key question: Which Bo Wallace will we see, Good Bo or Bad Bo?
It sure looked like Wallace was past his late-game struggles. He led Ole Miss back to a thrilling come-from-behind win against Alabama and through the first seven games, he had thrown six touchdowns to no interceptions in the fourth quarter. That all changed Saturday. Wallace went 6-of-14 in the fourth quarter against LSU and threw the game-clinching interception. Can he bounce back this Saturday against Auburn? The Tigers have forced seven turnovers in their last two games.
Key stat: Ole Miss leads the FBS in points off turnovers (97) and turnover margin (+13).
The last time Auburn went on the road, it turned the ball over on its first two possessions. The Tigers were down 21-0 before they knew what hit them. This offense can't afford to turn the ball over like that again and Nick Marshall in particular has to be careful against an Ole Miss defense that has an FBS-high 17 interceptions. It will be important for the Tigers to establish a running game and grab an early lead because they don't want to throw unless they have to, not against a secondary that includes Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson.