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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 40: Auburn

The gap in talent between Cam Newton and Barrett Trotter is larger than the gap between an Alabama fan and an Auburn fan as they pass on the street. A player like Newton comes along once in a lifetime; Trotter, while he gave his all, had none of the gifts that made Newton such a jaw-dropping talent. This isn’t news: Auburn struggled offensively because Newton was no longer in the fold. What was surprising was the ease with which the fan base soured on Gus Malzahn, who only eight months before the start of the 2011 season had been viewed as the one irreplaceable piece on Gene Chizik’s staff. Was Malzahn really to blame for the drop in offensive production, or was the decline merely a byproduct of Auburn being caught unprepared by Newton’s one-and-done junior season? The answer will come in September, in a way. Malzahn is out, having taken the head job at Arkansas State. And Trotter is out, having opted to skip his senior season. That leaves Auburn with a new coordinator but a similar problem. Three quarterbacks: one junior with some experience, a sophomore with little experience and a true freshman trying to learn the system on the fly.

Conference
SEC, West

Location
Auburn, Ala.

Nickname
Tigers

Returning starters
16 (7 offense, 9 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 33

2011 record
(8-5, 4-4)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 30

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    vs. Clemson (in Atlanta)
  • Sept. 8
    at Mississippi St.
  • Sept. 15
    La.-Monroe
  • Sept. 22
    L.S.U.
  • Oct. 6
    Arkansas
  • Oct. 13
    at Mississippi
  • Oct. 20
    at Vanderbilt
  • Oct. 27
    Texas A&M
  • Nov. 3
    N.M.S.U.
  • Nov. 10
    Georgia
  • Nov. 17
    Alabama A&M
  • Nov. 24
    at Alabama

Last year’s prediction

I know, I know. Defending champs, 14-0, Chizik, Malzahn, talent, more talent, speed, a system and more. There’s simply too much talent to ignore; the problem is that the vast majority of the talent is unproven, and while talent is talent the SEC is not kind to young teams. If the starters play up to their talent, not their age, Auburn could win 10 games and challenge for a B.C.S. berth. If the youngsters show their youth, struggling early and getting chewed apart by the talented, experienced, hungry teams in the SEC itching to take down the Tigers, it could be a long year. It’s only safe, considering how much Auburn has lost and how tough the road will be to overcome, to expect the Tigers to take a step back. Eight wins would be a success.

2011 recap

In a nutshell The defending national champs didn’t play a complete game all season, unless you count a Nov. 19 win over Samford. You shouldn’t count Samford. Auburn barely sneaked past Utah State in the season opener. The defense was inept for all but the final two plays of a 41-34 win over Mississippi State. Mighty Florida Atlantic held the Tigers to 315 yards of total offense. Mississippi ran for 220 yards on the ground. And these were wins; Auburn barely showed a pulse in defeat. Clemson had 624 yards of total offense. Arkansas, L.S.U., Georgia and Alabama beat the Tigers by the combined final score of 170-45. In all, Auburn scored 234 fewer points and allowed 39 more points in one fewer game than in 2010. Not quite the national title follow-up that the Tigers had in mind, I’m sure.

High point A 16-13 win at then-No. 10 South Carolina on Oct. 1. For one week, at least, the defense showed up. This game is notable for another reason: After five years and as many suspensions, this was Stephen Garcia’s final start for the Gamecocks.

Low point A 42-14 loss to the Crimson Tide. One year after blowing a 24-0 lead, Alabama took a 24-7 advantage into halftime and never looked back.

Tidbit Last fall, Auburn went 6-1 in home games and 1-4 in true road games – 2-4 in all non-home games, counting the bowl win over Virginia. This marked the second time in its three years under Chizik that Auburn had won only a single road game during the regular season; in 2009, the Tigers went 1-3 on the road and 6-1 at home. But it could be worse: Auburn went 0-5 on the road in 2008, Tommy Tuberville’s final season with the program.

Tidbit (bowl wins edition) Auburn has been one of the nation’s best bowl teams since the start of the 1974 season. The Tigers are 17-6-1 in postseason play since that point, and are in the middle of a program-record five-game bowl winning streak. This is the program’s third bowl streak of three or more straight wins, joining 1974-84 (wins following the 1974, 1982, 1983 and 1984 seasons) and 2003-5.

Tidbit (strong start edition) Gene Chizik’s 30 wins since the start of the 2009 season are the most in program history of any coach through his first three seasons. In second is Terry Bowden, who went 28-5-1 from 1993-95 – Bowden does own the highest winning percentage, however, at 83.8 percent; Chizik has won 75.0 percent of his games. Up next is Pat Dye, who went 25-10 from 1981-83, and then Tuberville, who went 21-15 from 1999-2001.

Tidbit (Iron Bowl edition) Alabama gained a little Iron Bowl revenge last fall, dismantling the Tigers en route to another national title, but that win didn’t erase one fact: Auburn owns the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. While the Iron Bowl was long played at a neutral site, at Birmingham’s Legion Field, the rivalry moved permanently to the two teams’ home fields in 2000. Since 2000, the Tigers are 5-1 on Alabama’s home turf – with the lone loss, a 36-0 destruction, coming in Tuberville’s final season. The scores: 9-0 in 2000, 17-7 in 2002, 21-13 in 2004, 22-15 in 2006 and 28-27 in 2010.

Former players in the N.F.L.

35 WR Darvin Adams (Carolina), WR Devin Aromashodu (Minnesota), DE Mike Blanc (Pittsburgh), RB Ronnie Brown (San Diego), LB Josh Bynes (Baltimore), QB Jason Campbell (Chicago), DT Zach Clayton (Tennessee), LB Antonio Coleman (Arizona), LB Karlos Dansby (Miami), RB Tristan Davis (Washington), OT King Dunlap (Philadelphia), DT Nick Fairley (Detroit), RB Mario Fannin (Denver), OG Tyronne Green (San Diego), OT A.J. Greene (Chicago), LB Quentin Groves (Arizona), OG Ben Grubbs (New Orleans), C Josh Harris (Atlanta), LB Will Herring (New Orleans), DE Spencer Johnson (Buffalo), CB Pat Lee (Oakland), DT Sen’Derrick Marks (Tennessee), CB Walter McFadden (Pittsburgh), OT Brandon Mosley (New York Giants), QB Cam Newton (Carolina), WR Ben Obomanu (Seattle), C Jarraud Powers (Indianapolis), DT Jay Ratliff (Dallas), CB Carlos Rogers (San Francisco), DT Pat Sims (Cincinnati), LB Takeo Spikes (San Diego), RB Ben Tate (Houston), S Neiko Thorpe (Kansas City), CB Jonathan Wilhite (Chicago), OT Lee Ziemba (Carolina).

Arbitrary top five list

Rookie seasons by an N.F.L. quarterback
1. Cam Newton, Carolina (2011).
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (2004).
3. Dan Marino, Miami (1983).
4. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (1998).
5. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (2011).

Coaching

Gene Chizik (Florida ’85), 30-10 after three seasons at Auburn. He’s come a long way since Iowa State. What he did in 2010 was what countless other Auburn coaches couldn’t: win a national title. Chizik did so after building a foundation in 2009, when the Tigers made a three-win improvement over their 2008 mark. Auburn retooled on the field and off, beefing up its recruiting efforts under Chizik en route to landing one of the most ballyhooed classes in school history. And that run has continued, with Auburn reeling talented recruit after talented recruit to push this roster, as a whole, into the upper echelon in the country. Perhaps now we can put his uninspired tenure at Iowa State to bed, yes? So what attracted Auburn to Chizik in the first place? His superb resume as an assistant, for starters, but also his ties to the university, where he spent the 2002-4 seasons as its defensive coordinator. The Tigers compiled a 30-9 record over this span, culminating in the team’s 13-0 finish in 2004. Chizik left for Texas in 2005, and helped lead the Longhorns to the national championship; at one point, Chizik-coached teams had won 29 straight games, beginning at Auburn and continuing at Texas. He was hired at Iowa State in 2007, and tied the 1996-97 Cyclones for the most losses over a two-year span in the program’s decidedly poor history. Nevertheless, it was rash to judge Chizik’s potential with the Tigers merely on his history at Iowa State; there may not be a tougher place to win in the F.B.S., though Chizik did fail spectacularly. Two years later, we begin to see just what Auburn saw in its former assistant — Chizik has had the last laugh. He’s a national title winner, after all. Now, can he get the Tigers back to the top?

Tidbit (coaching edition) The meat of Auburn’s coaching staff remains the same. There’s only one new position coach: Willie Martinez takes over the defensive backs after serving in the same capacity at Oklahoma over the last two seasons. The big changes – the moves that signal a shift in overall philosophy – are at coordinator, where former Temple and Florida assistant Scot Loeffler takes over on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense. Martinez and VanGorder are two peas in a pod: the two have worked together on the high school level, at Central Michigan, U.C.F. and Georgia – when VanGorder was running the Bulldogs’ defense – so it was simply a matter of time before the pair were reunited.

Players to watch

For the time being – because I do think that Auburn will eventually adopt an even more pro-style mindset over the next two or three seasons – Loeffler will incorporate his more traditional offensive values with the spread system Auburn has used throughout Chizik’s tenure. What does this mean? That you’ll see a less quarterback-driven offense, particularly in the running game. Rather than having the run flow through the quarterback, something that worked like gangbusters when Newton was running the show, Loeffler will turn a strong portion of the workload over to a deep and talented stable of running backs.

Depth was a major issue in the backfield last fall, though Auburn was able to avoid this red flag by landing full seasons from Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. Even with Dyer gone – who was dismissed from Arkansas State yesterday – the Tigers have far more options at their disposal heading into September. One thing you’ll see that may come as a surprise: a fullback. And Loeffler has a good one at his disposal in former Illinois transfer Jay Prosch, who despite not landing many carries will be an integral factor in this reworked running game.

McCalebb (641 yards, 5 touchdowns) does return, and Auburn knows that the senior is a lock for 500-plus yards and a heady yards per carry average. McCalebb won’t simply segue into a starting role, however, as the power-first ground game might need a bigger, sturdier option to do the heavy lifting; this would leave McCalebb in a secondary role, one that he’ll fit wonderfully – as he has throughout his career. Due to their bigger size and running style, sophomores Tre Mason (161 yards) and Corey Grant, the latter a former Alabama transfer, are solid alternatives between the tackles.

The depth doesn’t stop there. Auburn also has redshirt freshman Mike Blakely, who originally signed with Florida but left for Auburn after spending last spring in Gainesville; while he’s not going to hold a major role in 2012, he’s clearly another back who could be very dangerous if teamed with one of Auburn’s bigger backs. A fifth option is incoming freshman Jovon Robinson, even if he’s going to find it difficult to earn any significant action as a rookie – in fact, he should probably take a redshirt this fall. I really like what Auburn brings to the table at the position.

The tweaked running philosophy will provide a sterner test for this offensive line: Auburn’s front will shift mentalities, going from blocking in space – blocking an area, as it did with a zone running game – to attacking individual targets; that’s a simplified take on the Tigers’ changes, but there’s little doubt that these linemen will need to alter their approach to blocking the front seven. Now, before getting to the nuts and bolts, a quick aside: Auburn has recruited offensive linemen as well as – better than, in my opinion – any program in football over the last two seasons. The Tigers have absolutely stockpiled talent; the lone issue, of course, is that these youngsters, now either freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores, need some time in the lineup before reaching their full potential.

You see this youth up front in 2012. The lone senior on the two-deep is left guard John Sullen, a returning starter who shifts over from the right side. Sullen is one of two full-time starters back in the fold, joining sophomore Reese Dismukes; the Tigers also return sophomore Chad Slade, who started the final seven games of last season at left guard – Slade will over to right guard to give Auburn a pretty strong interior. But the Tigers will bookend the line with freshmen: Greg Robinson, a redshirt freshman, on the left side, and true freshman Patrick Miller on the right side.

So what will you see up front this fall? Some unsteady play at tackle. An all-conference season from Dismukes, a burgeoning star. Steady growth from Slade, who will be more mentally prepared after working with the first-team offense all spring and summer. Overall, you’re going to see growing pains. To me, it’s obvious that Auburn’s offensive line is at least one full season away from turning into the SEC’s best front. But the potential is clearly there – just look at this depth chart. In addition to the young starters, there are several current reserves with major, major potential: Christian Westerman, Shane Callahan, Eric Mack, Shon Coleman – I’ll be rooting for him – Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond. The sky is the limit for Auburn’s offensive line. But you will see an uneven performance this fall.

Loeffler and Trooper Taylor spent the entire spring – and will continue in the fall – searching for two things from this receiver corps: overall consistency and a capable complimentary option to team with senior Emory Blake (36 catches for 613 yards and 5 scores). The two coaches did not like what they saw in April; no one stepped forward, though it does seem as if Auburn did identify another two starters in senior Travante Stallworth (13 for 214) and sophomore Trovon Reed (21 for 164). So what does Auburn need? Another big year from Blake, who should be motivated to end his career on a high note – impressing the N.F.L. in the process. More flash from Reed, who will actually run routes in 2012, not simply catch screens. A breakthrough from senior De’Angelo Benton, who has never quite fulfilled his potential.

And production from the younger portion of the receiver corps, targets like Quan Bray, Sammie Coats, Jaylon Denson and incoming freshmen JaQuay Williams and Ricardo Louis, should both qualify. One player who will love Loeffler’s offense is senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (24 for 238 and 7 touchdowns), who will spend most of his time lined up as a traditional tight end. That should mean increased numbers across the board for Lutzenkirchen, an all-American candidate who excels in the red zone. While the rest of the depth chart catches up, Auburn is going to rely heavily on Blake and the tight end.

It’s hard not to see the similarities between VanGorder and Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham, who like VanGorder was hired to revamp a once-proud defense fallen on hard times. Like Grantham, the Tigers’ new defensive leader comes off the N.F.L. ranks; VanGorder, once Georgia’s coordinator, believe it or not, spent the last four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Both made their names in the N.F.L., though both were born and bred in the college game. And like Grantham did with the Bulldogs, VanGorder will supply Auburn with a few crucial factors that have gone missing over the last three seasons: toughness, anger, ferocity and accountability. I love the hire.

One widespread misconception surrounding VanGorder’s arrival involved his defensive philosophy: Was Auburn going to run a 4-3 or shift into a 3-4 base set? While VanGorder will be flexible – as was his predecessor, Ted Roof – the Tigers will play out of the 4-3 the majority of the time. What will allow VanGorder to shift into the 3-4 when needed are junior ends Corey Lemonier (47 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks) and Nosa Eguae (38 tackles, 6.o for loss), both of whom could move up to linebacker in certain situations – particularly Lemonier, who is outstanding. His development last fall was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disheartening defense.

Lemonier is one defender who will love playing under VanGorder. Auburn’s new coordinator has promised aggressiveness; he’s told his edge linemen to pin their ears back, bring pressure and promote messiness, which should be music to Lemonier’s ears. He’ll rarely leave the field, but Auburn will look to get junior Dee Ford back into the mix after he missed all but three games of last season due to injury. The Tigers’ depth at end also includes junior Craig Sanders and sophomores LaDarius Owens and Justin Delaine.

You’ll see the same three linemen top the rotation along the interior. Auburn’s starters, once again, will be juniors Jeffrey Whitaker (25 tackles) and Kenneth Carter (21 tackles). Pushing both for snaps will be sophomore Gabe Wright (12 tackles), one of several second-year players ready to take a step forward after gaining some valuable experience; Wright made three late-season starts as a rookie. In fact, it’s probably too early to say that Carter is assured of retaining his starting role – Wright could push him into a backup spot with a strong fall camp. While the Tigers are inexperienced behind this top threesome, there are a few very nice redshirt freshmen and sophomores jostling for snaps. Overall, the defensive line should be improved.

The Tigers return two starters at linebacker, but only one is guaranteed to remain in the starting lineup. That would be senior Daren Bates (104 tackles, 8.5 for loss), last season’s leading tackler. Bates will line up on the weak side, where he should earn all-SEC honors, but will senior Jonathan Evans (40 tackles) retain the top spot on the strong side? Experience counts, especially given Auburn’s youth on both sides of the ball, but it’s probably not a stretch to say that had he not been injured last summer, redshirt freshman Kris Frost would have served in a major role for this defense as a rookie.

A year later, Frost has recommenced his assault on the two-deep. If healthy, he’s too talented not to put on the field; a former five-star recruit, Frost brings speed and a sense of danger to a linebacker corps needing two strong options to join Bates in the lineup. For now, the battle between Frost and Evans is one of two to watch in August, joining the continued competition at quarterback. Junior Jake Holland (43 tackles, 3.5 for loss) will move back into a starting role at middle linebacker; he started the first six games of last season before ceding way to Eltoro Freeman, who has since exhausted his eligibility.

There’s absolutely no excuse for Auburn to field as impotent a pass defense as it did a season ago. The writing was on the wall early: Chuckie Keeton, a true freshman making his first career start – and doing so on the road against an SEC team, no less – completed 21 of 30 attempts for 221 yards while adding two scores on the ground. It’s safe to say that few quarterbacks broke a sweat moving the ball against Auburn, which failed dreadfully in key SEC West tilts against Auburn, L.S.U. and Arkansas. What makes last year’s lack of production all the more disappointing is that it wasn’t a one-year trend; Auburn’s pass defense has been inept for two years running, and it’s one thing that VanGorder must amend before leading this defense back into the top half of the SEC.

Inexperience will no longer be an excuse, nor will injuries – hopefully. Cornerback T’Sharvan Bell (45 tackles, 2 interceptions) is a senior; his running mate at cornerback, Chris Davis (60 tackles), is a junior. Nickel back Jermaine Whitehead (31 tackles), who had his moments last fall, is now a sophomore. Junior strong safety Demetruce McNeal (74 tackles, 2 interceptions) returns for another season in the starting lineup. The lone new face is sophomore Erique Florence, who steps in for Neiko Thorpe at free safety – but Florence played extensively as Thorpe’s backup last fall.

Don’t question the talent, because this secondary has that in spades. Hopefully, all this group needs is a new voice. Can VanGorder create the sort of schemes that will prevent the big plays that dotted last season’s pass defense? Auburn allowed 37 completions of 20 or more yards last fall, the second-most in the SEC. Will another season of experience find Bell and Davis playing less tentatively in coverage? Auburn hopes so; while the league makes waves in the trenches, it’s virtually impossible for a team to navigate the West division if it cannot put the clamps down on the opposition’s passing game. For now, the secondary is a concern.

One example of last year’s decline on offense: Auburn punted 42 times in 2010 and 73 times in 2011. The increased workload gave junior Steven Clark ample opportunity to strut his all-American stuff, which was nice – though Auburn would like to have its punter go completely and utterly unnoticed, thank you very much. Junior kicker Cody Parkey stepped into some big shoes last fall, replacing Wes Byrum, but he acquitted himself very well. In all, Auburn has one of the nation’s best kicker-punter combinations. Where the Tigers can be very dangerous is in the return game, where Chizik and his staff have as many as five or six options to choose from. Mason and McCalebb were outstanding on special teams last fall.

Position battle(s) to watch

Quarterback He was always a long shot, but any chance true freshman Zeke Pike had of grabbing the starting job went out the window in late June, when he was arrested on a charge of public intoxication. Now, instead of being a challenger for the top job, Pike faces a situation where he may no longer be considered a serious part of Auburn’s future; keep in mind the fact that Pike ran into some on-field trouble as a high school senior, and that the last thing this program needs right now – especially at a position like quarterback – is a player teammates can’t depend on either on the field or off. So Pike’s summertime suspension essentially removed him from the competition, likely sending him to a redshirt season, and left Loeffler, Chizik and Auburn with two options: Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley.

New year, same story – for Moseley, at least. It was at this time a year ago that Moseley and Trotter were neck-and-neck for the starting job, with Trotter eventually winning out. And as in last summer, Moseley is the underdog in this race; Frazier, a sophomore, seems to hold the inside track. For Moseley, it’s not a matter of inexperience, or a lack of headiness, or that he’s failed when called upon. In fact, he was clearly Auburn’s best option at quarterback last fall, faring better than Trotter in completion percentage, yards per attempt and efficiency rating.

But Moseley is limited: Frazier is simply more physically talented, in many areas drastically so. Frazier, who played in five games last fall, more as a runner than a passer, can make every throw in the book – in fact, more than one receiver has noted the strength of his arm, how he throws even harder than Newton did over his one season with the Tigers. Based on physical talent, Frazier is the hands-down favorite to claim the starting job in August. The only reason Chizik hasn’t already handed Frazier the starting job is because he and Loeffler are waiting to see how each grasps the system in August. And there’s the senior’s chance: Moseley can only hope to show the staff that he’s far more well-versed in the system, and that his ability to run the entire playbook gives Auburn the best chance at victory. That’s Moseley’s shot, and it’s a slim one. But it makes the quarterback competition one worth watching during fall camp.

Game(s) to watch

The year starts and ends with a bang: Clemson, Mississippi State, L.S.U. and Arkansas through the first week of October, Alabama to close, as always. So it’s vital that Auburn make a move in the middle of the year, when the schedule should allow for an extended winning streak. The goal should be to win every game from Mississippi through New Mexico State and lose no more than one from the Rebels through Alabama A&M. If the Tigers can sweep that group – with Georgia the toughest game – and start strong, this team can win 10 games. Unfortunately, getting Clemson and Mississippi State away from home just as the Tigers break in a pair of new coordinators is not going to help this team build some much-needed confidence. In fact, losing that pair to open the season could derail Auburn’s chances before the calendar turns to September.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell It’s going to be very interesting to watch Auburn transition away from the Malzahn-era spread that defined Chizik’s first three teams – often for better, sometimes for worse – and embrace a more defensively oriented mindset. That’s where this team is headed: Auburn will slowly but surely become more pro-style on offense, with Loeffler now calling the shots, and VanGorder’s arrival clearly spells a recommitment to the sort of defense that propelled the Tigers’ successful run under the previous staff. In many ways, Auburn has become very orthodox in its approach to both sides of the ball. While Loeffler will incorporate spread philosophies into his pro-style background, the offense will be far more traditional. Being more vanilla on offense places pressure on the defense to deliver, something it has failed to do for three years running. This is traditional SEC football: offense and defense working in concert, rather than the offense simply outscoring the opposition while the defense treads water.

So it’s a mental change to go with the physical alterations – the new running game, the different schemes, the different terminology and the scattered new faces dotting the depth chart. How will this go for Auburn? In the long run, hiring a coordinator like VanGorder is going to provide tremendous balance to a program far too reliant on offensive success. On offense, bringing in Loeffler should lead to greater consistency than you saw a season ago, even if Auburn likely won’t be as explosive as it was at its best under Malzahn. Again, this is going to be interesting.

But I don’t think it’s going to go that well in 2012, though I stand relatively alone in this regard. In fact, I could even see this coming season run off the rails entirely, should Auburn lose to Clemson and Mississippi State to open the season. If that occurs, the Tigers could head into mid-October at 1-4, needing a midseason run merely to cement bowl eligibility – and in a worst-case scenario, could lose to Vanderbilt and Texas A&M and miss postseason play altogether. It won’t get that bad. But it will be ugly at times, especially against the seasoned, veteran teams more prepared for this coming season: Clemson, L.S.U., Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama.

The personnel issues are fairly obvious. Quarterback play will be improved, but Frazier – if he’s the starter, which should be the case – is still very raw; and improved play, in this case, doesn’t mean all that much. The offensive line is extremely young and inexperienced. The Tigers lack weapons at receiver behind Blake. The secondary needs to rediscover its lost confidence. You simply cannot win games in the SEC with these issues, and Auburn’s faults are exacerbated by the fact that it will break in a pair of new coordinators.

The good news is that help isn’t on the way – help is already here. Across the board, all the Tigers need to regain its perch in the SEC is time: Auburn’s offensive line needs another year, Frazier needs another year, the back seven needs another year and the entire team needs one full season before clicking under Loeffler and VanGorder. I look at this roster and see the foundation for another title run. I just envision this program needing to take some lumps while gaining some valuable experience. I think Auburn wins seven games in the regular season for the second straight year.

Dream season Auburn wins three straight to open the year, moving high in the Top 25, before losing at L.S.U. to end September. But that loss is followed by an eight-game winning streak – a streak capped by a second straight win in Tuscaloosa. Heading into the SEC title game, Auburn has a very good chance at playing for another national title.

Nightmare season Auburn wins only one of its first five. That’s followed by a win at Mississippi, a loss at Vanderbilt, a loss to Texas A&M, a win over New Mexico State, a loss to Georgia, a win over Alabama A&M and a 38-point loss at Alabama.

In case you were wondering

Where do Auburn fans congregate? Begin with the three recruiting sites, Auburn UndercoverAuburn Sports and AUTigers.com. For independent Web sites, check out AUNation.net, AuburnFootball.com and Wayne and Hobbes’ Auburn Message Board. I’m not done yet: for a blog’s take, visit Track ‘Em Tigers and War Blog Eagle. As with Auburn’s Iron Bowl rival, the best newspaper coverage can be found at the Al.com.

Auburn’s all-name nominee RB Chandler Shakespeare.

Word Count

Through 85 teams 336,861.

Up Next

Who is No. 39? Tomorrow’s program is one of two schools to put a player born in Zaire into the N.F.L., and the only to do so with a defensive player.

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Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    The player in question is Muadianvita Kazadi, University of Tulsa. Played in 12 games for the Rams in 1997 in his only NFL season.

  2. Greg says:

    Tulsa next

  3. [...] preseason review of Missouri, you won’t be disappointed in what he writes about his No. 40, Auburn.  There’s plenty of interest, but this really caught my eye. Last fall, Auburn went 6-1 in [...]

  4. Scott Wallace says:

    31 days to game day. Camp opens in 3 days.

  5. Eksynyt says:

    31 days til football and 39 teams left. Are you going to double up some days, Paul?

  6. I would include auburn.247sports.com on the list of Auburn sites. I follow it pretty regularly and it is growing. Also, I probably would have Auburn close to the Top 25 to start the season.

  7. John says:

    OK, I’m an Ohio Bobcats fan. There is NO WAY they’re higher than this. In fact, they’re 50 at best. Paul, did you forget them?

  8. MAC West = Best Non-AQ Division in College Football says:

    @John (who claims that he is, but is probably not, an Ohio Bobcats fan)

    It’s probably that Paul has Ohio as the #1 MAC team and if history (the past two seasons) are used as a barometer, they should not be up yet.

    In 2011, the #1 MAC team finished #26 in the poll and in 2010, I believe it finished somewhere between #26 – #29.

    So yes, the #1 MAC team should not be listed yet; however, your apprehension may stem from knowing that Ohio is not/will not finish as the #1 MAC team.

    I think Paul has underestimated the disparity between the two MAC divisions. The double-digit winning, #1 MAC team will more than likely be the West Division winner and will probably, once again, finish the season ranked in the 20′s.

    And, that team will probably be the same team from the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

  9. trueparallels says:

    As someone who saw the Auburn/Samford game in person, you absolutely should not count it. Samford outplayed Auburn for most of the first three quarters before Auburn pulled away in the fourth. Auburn’s best day all year was probably against Ole Miss.

  10. Joseph says:

    There are a few problems with this article. But, research is ok.

    One big thing – the Iron Bowl series moved to home and home in 1989. I was at that game. I think after this there were a couple more games played at Legion field to honor contracts, though.

  11. MAC West = Best Non-AQ Division in College Football says:

    (Original Post Stamp: July 30, 2012 at 10:18 pm)

    Look at me and my PROPHETIC ways.

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