It's hard to fathom just how much has changed in the last twelve months for the Auburn Tigers.
In the span of 365 days, the Tigers went from predicted title contender to projected punching bag. Have the Tigers really fallen that far that fast?
At this time a year ago, the Tigers were the chic pick to win the SEC West. The program was one of the most stable in the league, its head coach Tommy Tuberville holding the second-longest tenure of any active SEC coach.
Fresh off a heady performance in the Peach Bowl, sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns was expected to step in flawlessly and give the Tigers a dual quarterback threat that was a cross between Michael Vick and Tom Brady.
New offensive coordinator Tony Franklin brought the anticipation of a high-flying, high-scoring offensive juggernaut to complement Auburn's traditionally stingy defense.
In addition, the Tigers owned a comfortable six-game winning streak over their arch rivals.
The only questions facing the team were whether it would finish with 10 wins or 11 and whether the bowl game would be of the BCS variety.
The sky was the limit. Until it fell.
The offense collapsed, managing just three points against struggling Mississippi State. The defense faded, falling apart in the second half against West Virginia. Vandy tazed the Tigers. The losses mounted. So did the frustration.
Franklin was gone midseason. Tuberville departed at season's end.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs brought in Gene Chizik, former Auburn defensive coordinator under Tuberville, as head coach. Once one of the hottest assistants in the business, Chizik tarnished his reputation and left significant room for doubt with a less than adequate 5-19 record in two seasons as head coach at Iowa State.
Three days from now, Chizik will unveil his first Auburn team against Louisiana Tech.
If you believe predictions made by WhatIfSports.com, Chizik's debut will be a sour one.
The website simulated every game of the season 10,000 times and then posted the average result. The computers prognosticate a 23-15 Auburn loss in the opener.
Further, WhatIfSports.com's week-by-week predictions forecast a 3-9 finish for Chizik in his debut season.
While some would be willing to give Chizik leeway in his first season, using lack of depth and the learning curve as primary justifications, a 3-9 season should be considered utterly unacceptable.
Barring significant injuries, a 3-9 season would unequivocally indicate that Chizik is incapable of handling the position and the Auburn administration would be wise to immediately begin to look elsewhere.
Yes, there is a lack of depth, particularly at the linebacker position and on the offensive line.
Yes, the quarterback position is not as solid as once thought. Kodi Burns, for a number of reasons, never matured into the dynamic playmaker most thought he would be. That falls largely at the feet of Franklin who let his development lag.
The Tigers instead will have slow-footed Chris Todd taking snaps. Todd was shell shocked a year ago and injury limited his effectiveness. It's unknown whether he has recovered sufficiently both physically and mentally to own the role Chizik's staff has handed him.
Still, a 3-9 season would be an abomination.
Rewind the tape to a year ago. Auburn was considered to have enough talent to win the West.
The majority of that talent returns.
The Tigers bring back seven starters on offense, including three on the offensive line.
Most of the receivers must be replaced, but Auburn's receiving corps was woefully inadequate a year ago and can only be improved with the addition of impact freshmen like DeAngelo Benton.
Proper utilization of Mario Fannin and the explosive potential of transfer Onterio McCaleb should give the offense added boost.
Seven starters potentially return to the Tiger defense although that number is trimmed to six until safety Mike McNeill recovers from a broken leg suffered in the spring.
Auburn needs bodies at linebacker, but the starting front can hold its own with any team in the league.
The secondary is also somewhat thin and younger players will have to step in immediately.
The Tiger special teams returns a solid unit and will be improved if Wes Byrum returns to freshman form.
Auburn fans shouldn't start checking flights to Pasadena for the BCS Championship, nor should they make hotel reservations in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.
Neither should they tolerate a 3-9 record in 2009.
Auburn may have fallen, but there's more than enough talent on the Plains for this team to get up. No matter what the justification, 3-9 won't cut it.
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