No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 18 Minnesota: Outback Bowl preview and picks against the spread

No. 12 Auburn (9-3) vs. No. 18 Minnesota (10-2)

Location: Tampa | When: Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Auburn -7.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Auburn: The season is a success because Auburn beat Alabama and knocked the Crimson Tide out of the playoff, right? Auburn bookended the regular season with great wins. The Tigers knocked off Oregon in Week 1 and then took down Alabama in Week 14.

In between, Auburn lost to Florida, LSU and Georgia. All three teams ended the regular season in the top 10. The Tigers played one of the toughest schedules in the country and did just fine. 

Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown should be an early pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown should be an early pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Minnesota: The Gophers controlled their playoff chances entering the last week of the regular season. Seriously! Had Minnesota beaten Wisconsin in the last week of the season and taken down Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, the Gophers would very likely have been in the College Football Playoff. 

Instead, they lost to Wisconsin and careened down the College Football standings and fell all the way to the Outback Bowl. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This matchup is the best one outside the New Year’s Six, and it’s fair to say that this is a more intriguing game than the Orange Bowl. It’s a great chance for Minnesota to show that it wasn’t a product of a schedule that was significantly weaker than Auburn’s. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Auburn WR Seth Williams: The sophomore emerged as Auburn’s best wide receiver in 2019. After averaging over 20 yards a catch in 2018, Williams’ average per reception dropped to just below 15. But he’s caught 55 passes for 801 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Crazily enough, none of those eight touchdowns has come in the final four games. Williams’ eight scores all came in the first two months of the season. He last found the end zone against LSU on Oct. 26. We’re going to bet he scores against the Gophers.

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman is the team's leading receiver. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman is the team's leading receiver. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman: While Tyler Johnson has more catches, Bateman has more yards (1,170) and the same number of touchdowns (11). Bateman averages over 20 yards a catch and is one of the best downfield receivers in the country. The sophomore torched Penn State with seven catches for 203 yards and had six catches for 147 yards against Wisconsin. If his habit of showing up against good opponents continues, Bateman could have a big game against the Tigers.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Auburn DT Derrick Brown: A possible top-five overall pick in 2020, Brown surprised many when he opted to play in this game. Brown cited being named a team captain as the reason and not wanting to let his teammates down. Don’t think NFL scouts haven’t noticed that. But they’ll also notice his monstrous power and exceptional effort. The Gophers have a young, big offensive line that will come in with a month-long plan on how to block Brown, but it might not matter. He’s a top-10 prospect for a reason. Brown is just a rare breed.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Auburn: A win gives the Tigers a second 10-win season in the last three and coach Gus Malzahn the third 10-win season of his tenure at Auburn. Malzahn would also push his bowl record to 3-4. Last year’s Music City Bowl blowout was just his second bowl win.

Minnesota: The Gophers have already won 10 games for the first time since 2003. A bowl win would be the fourth consecutive postseason victory for the team and give Minnesota its winningest season in over a century. The last time a Minnesota team won over 10 games was 1903, when the Gophers went 13-0 and marauded the Western Conference. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Auburn -7.5

Sam Cooper: Auburn -7.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Auburn -7.5

Pete Thamel: Auburn -7.5

Dan Wetzel: Auburn -7.5

Sean Sullivan: Minnesota +7.5

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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