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Clemson at Auburn Preview: Q&A with College and Magnolia

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Walt Austin from SB Nation's Auburn affiliate, College & Magnolia, joined us again to answer some questions about the Auburn Tigers as we preview the season opening matchup.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

STS: What one thing, aside from luck or injuries, has to go right for Auburn to beat Clemson?

C&M: Sean White has to be able to effectively throw the football, and the receivers have to actually catch it. Sean acquitted himself well as a redshirt freshman last year. He's got a very accurate arm, and was starting to gain a real command of the offense before his injury in overtime of the Arkansas game. His receivers let him down way too often in that one. Auburn will have to establish a passing game to beat Clemson.

STS: What one positional matchup concerns you the most heading into week 1 against Clemson?

C&M: Deshaun Watson against the entire Auburn defense. I believe this is going to be the best Auburn defense since the mid-2000s when Auburn was built on defense, but a QB like Watson is able to make even great defenses look stupid. Auburn's defense is great in potential, but severely lacking in proof of greatness on the field. There's so much talent and potential, but they really only put it together twice in 2015: the first half against Louisville and the bowl game against Memphis. Those were, incidentally, the only times the defense was fully healthy.

STS: What positional matchup is Auburn best suited to exploit?

C&M: I'd really like to say Sean White and the receivers against the defensive backs, but that would require me to have a lot of confidence in the receivers. Marcus Davis and Jason Smith I feel good about. The rest have been iffy their whole careers or are freshmen.

I'm going to go with the defensive line just because I have to pick something. I know Clemson replaced a few starters on the offensive line and are playing some underclassmen. Auburn, meanwhile, may have the best defensive line its had since 1988. Combine that with a well marinated home crowd, and I think the defensive line could give Clemson's OL fits.

STS: A few things stand out about my trip to Auburn in 2010. One of those was a very respectful Auburn fan patting me on the back after the game and telling me "if you all play like that all season you'll win the ACC." We went 4-4 in the ACC. In 2012, I recall watching two Auburn fans on MARTA debate just how embarrassing it was to lose to the ACC Tigers.

Auburn fans have always been particularly respectful and classy, so I ask this with the most reverence possible. Based on your experience, do Auburn fans assess Clemson on the same level of elite-ness as their SEC rivals (save Alabama) or do you sense there is still a stigma around being part of the (improving but still not SEC-level) Atlantic Coast Conference?

C&M: Honestly, I'm not real sure. I think many Auburn fans view Clemson as brethren in the "almost always pretty dang good, but for some reason just can't consistently be great like we should." Most Auburn fans have no love for Dabo Swinney, but I think they still do respect the coaching job he's done at Clemson, and view our fellow Tigers as definitely being equals on the playing field in elite-ness with most SEC teams.

Also, I'd love to see those same guys on MARTA looking back at that Clemson game a few weeks later. The conversation would probably have been more like "man, I can't believe this team hung with Clemson like that." That Auburn team was... bad. Very bad. Historically bad.

STS: Any advice for Clemson fans traveling to Auburn?

C&M: Parking anywhere close is horrendous on a game day, and it's best to be there at least 4-5 hours early if you want to get a decent space. Feel free to go up to pretty much any tailgate and say hi. Most fans should be friendly and receptive and just want to share in the mutual joy of FOOTBALL IS BACK!

Oh, and be in the stadium early enough to catch the Eagle Flight. It's usually about 12-15 minutes prior to kickoff. If you've never seen it, it is truly a sight to behold.

STS: In our season preview, we got a handful of bloggers from various SB Nation blogs together and forecast the chance that each of Clemson's opponents upend the Tigers. We gave Auburn a 21% chance to beat Clemson. Does that feel too high, too low, or just right to you?

C&M: I think that's a bit low. Most of the pieces are still in place on this Auburn team from the one that was expected to compete for the championship last year. Gus & Company were starting to figure out what to do with Sean White before he got injured. There's a whole lot more talent at the WR spot (even if most of them are freshmen) than Auburn has had in my memory, the defense will be (as noted) one of the better ones we've had in a long time, and it's a home night game. Auburn has a pretty stellar record in non-conference games at home; particularly sellouts. I'm not saying Auburn will win, but I do think it'll be a close game regardless of the final outcome.

STS: A big thank you to Walt for rushing home from his honeymoon to answer our questions (we kid!). If you'd like to see our answers (by Brian) to his questions, click here.

All the research and reading that has gone into creating game preview posts has scared me into thinking, Auburn may be (rightly) projected sixth or so in the SEC West, but they have a lot of upside and are a dangeous week 1 opponent. I'm not changing my pick, but I'm growing more anxious by the day.