Not a ton was expected of the Auburn Tigers following a national championship season, with quarterback Cam Newton departing for the NFL, so it wasn't a surprise to see them go 7-5 in 2011. With plenty of talent and youth on both sides of the ball, though, the Tigers figure to fare a bit better next season.
The 2012 SEC schedule has been released, and while Auburn lucked out in avoiding South Carolina and Florida out of the SEC East, the Tigers still have to contend with the toughest division in college football in the SEC West. With that in mind, here are three games an improved Auburn squad is guaranteed to lose next season.
vs. LSU (Sept. 22)
Auburn catches a break in that it won't have to face the LSU Tigers in a hostile road environment next season, but even so LSU figures to be excellent again in 2012. LSU kicked the tar out of Auburn 45-10 this season, and I doubt things will be significantly better next year.
Quarterback will be a question mark for LSU with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson graduating, but the Tigers didn't get great quarterback play this season and still managed to go undefeated.
Aside from that, LSU will return almost all of its offensive talent, and the defense will be largely intact as well with the exception of cornerback Morris Claiborne. The rest of the secondary, including Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann Mathieu, will likely still be in the fold, which makes LSU a national championship favorite again next season. Even if Auburn makes major strides, I can't see it upending LSU.
vs. Arkansas (Oct. 6)
While this game figures to be much closer than the 38-14 drubbing the Arkansas Razorbacks handed down this season, Arkansas still figures to be the better team next year. Neither Arkansas nor Auburn played particularly good defense in 2011, so any losses to the NFL will be negligible. However, the Razorbacks will return the bulk of its starters from an offense that averaged over 37 points per game this season.
Which team is Auburn most likely to beat in 2012?
Quarterback Tyler Wilson should be back and in line for a monster senior season, so Auburn will probably have to engage in a shootout to win this game. The Tigers will have a nice running back tandem in Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, but the quarterback situation is too unsettled to go blow for blow with Arkansas. I think the Razorbacks will succeed in winning their second consecutive game against Auburn.
@ Alabama (Nov. 24)
With running back Trent Richardson and several key defensive players likely to enter the NFL draft, there is little question in my mind that Alabama will take a step back next season. Despite that, I still like the Crimson Tide to come out on top in next season's Iron Bowl. The main reason for this is the continued maturation of Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron and head coach Nick Saban's ability to constantly reload.
The Tide lost the likes of quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones on offense heading into this season, but Alabama will still be playing for the national championship. The fact that the Tide will be playing this game on home field and that they never seem to experience a drop off under Saban gives them the advantage. With that said, I think Auburn will play much better than it did in a 42-14 loss this year.