2009 was a season of hope for the Auburn Tigers. After finishing the '08 season 5-7, and missing post-season play, Gene Chizik was hired to take over the helm of the struggling Tigers.
His inaugural season started out good, going 5-0 (albeit against teams like Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State and Ball State) but came to a screeching halt with back to back to back losses against Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU.
Auburn finished the season poorly, losing their final two regular season games to rivals Georgia and Alabama.
Finishing out the season with a 7-5 record (3-5 SEC) the Tigers found themselves in a New Year's Day bowl facing the Northwestern University Wildcats, who hadn't won a post season game in 60 years.
Auburn won in overtime, but not before Northwestern put up an Outback Bowl record 621 yards of offense. The Wildcats came within one fake field goal of breaking one of the longest post-season losing records in NCAA history.
Can Coach Gene Chizik, with his no. 3 recruiting class, improve upon last seasons record? Here are nine games that could challenge Auburn's 2010 season. How many can Auburn win? Some, but probably not all.
Don't be fooled by the Bulldog's 5-7 (3-5 SEC) record of 2009. The NCAA has rated Mississippi's 2009 schedule the toughest of the year and the 2nd toughest in the last decade.
Dan Mullen will have this offense ready to rumble when the cow bells start going off in Starkville. QB Chris Relf is a dual threat who averaged 6.6 yards on 76 carries last year, with 5 of those going for 20+ yards.
Mississippi State returns the entire offensive line and WR Chad Bumphis. If Auburn's defense doesn't show vast improvement from last year this could easily become their first loss of the season.
How do you replace C.J. Spiller? Well, you can't. But Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper pack a powerful one-two punch. Running behind Spiller they combined for 909 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per rush. C.J. averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
QB Kyle Parker threw for 20 touchdowns during his red-shirt freshman year. He'll be working behind a solid wall of protection as the Tigers return all but one of their front line.
WR Jacoby Ford is gone but Coach Dabo Swinney was in charge of that position for 5 years under Bobby Bowden. The receiving corp should not be a concern for Clemson this year.
Taking on Clemson is a very risky endeavor for a young Auburn team. If they get by Mississippi State and get a win here Auburn will find themselves breaking the top 25. If this becomes their second loss it could be a long season for Chizik and company.
The smart money says bet on the Tigers to win.
This game may come down to who will be more motivated. The addition of Marcus Lattimore to Spurrier's offense will only add motivation to both teams. The Old Ball Coach will probably be using 2 (maybe even 3) quarterbacks this season.
That formula worked well for him at Florida and now that his reputation and job are on the line expect him to go with what gave him success in the past. Spurrier has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and he'll want this win badly.
Marcus Lattimore spurned the Tigers and Spurrier will be expecting the Auburn defense to key on him. I'm thinking he may plan his offensive strategy around that expectation.
Auburn has the home field advantage in this game but the coaching advantage goes to South Carolina. This will be a fun game to watch.
Last year's win at Jordan-Hare with a third string quarterback not only gave the Kentucky Wildcats a morale boost, but also gave them a certain motivational factor in this year's rematch in Commonwealth Stadium.
Joker Phillips, in his first year as head coach, will be out to prove that it was no fluke.
The quarterback competition has heated up in Lexington without a clear front-runner. To hear Coach Phillips explain it this is a good thing, "The reason I'm not disappointed is because I think we can win with all three of those guys. I really do."
The Wildcat's defense needs much work but the offense wants to contend for the SEC East Title. To do this they will need a strong showing in all SEC games.
Auburn needs this win more than Kentucky.
Last year Tommy Tubberville predicted an Auburn win when he said, "Arkansas can't stop a cold, but they'll try to score some points" and that Auburn would win "by three touchdowns." He was half right. Arkansas won by three touchdowns.
Bobby Petrino has a very talented Ryan Mallett returning as quarterback and a ton of playmakers to run a high powered offense. The defense is expected to be much improved to boot.
Expect Auburn to be the underdog in this one. Gus will have to pull out all the stops to keep up with Arkansas' scoring in Jordan-Hare.
LSU is long on talent but short on coaching. The quarterback position is still up for grabs but that's not a good thing. Jarrett "Pick Six" Lee seems to be beating out Jordan Jefferson for the starting position.
Les Miles may figure out a way to win this game simply because his job seems to depend on him having a good season. If I were to bet on Auburn in any of these game this would be the one.
The Bayou Bengals will need their defense to keep them in this game because their offense will probably stink it up.
Last season win over Ole Miss was Auburn's lone signature win at home. This year they travel to Oxford where Houston Nutt will be looking for revenge. The Rebel's quarterback, Nathan Stanley, looked good in the spring football finale, putting together 2 long drives both ending in touchdowns.
The Reb's defense were able to hold the offense to 132 yards with two interceptions. Coach Nutt believes his defense gives the Rebels a chance to be good this year.
It doesn't bode well for Auburn that Ole Miss plays exceptionally well at home. Ted Roof needs to devise a plan to keep the Rebels out of the end-zone to keep this game close.
The Bulldogs are one of the few teams that have released their 2010 depth chart already. That means they are ready to go. There are a lot of fresh faces on defense this year but Coach Richt seems pretty happy with what he has.
The offense is boasting a tandem run game with Washaun Ealey and Caleb King splitting the carries and Carlton Thomas prepped and ready to lend a hand.
UGA had one of the best punters and kickers in the NCAA last season and both are returning for 2010.
This is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry and UGA should be able to give Auburn all they can handle. The Dawgs are trying to extend their winning streak to 5.
The last time Auburn visited Bryant-Denny they wound up on the wrong end of a 36-0 beat down. That game turned out to be the final game for Tommy Tubberville as Auburn's head coach.
This will be Gene Chizik's first appearance at Bryant-Denny as head coach. Not only is he about to face the reigning national champions on their home turf, he has to do it in the newly expanded Bryant-Denny stadium in front of 100,000+ fans.
Alabama returns nearly all of their offense and a defense that lost 9 starters to graduation and the NFL draft. But don't expect to see a lot of fresh faces on Alabama's defense. Nearly all of their defensive players saw significant playing time in their '09 undefeated season.
Alabama hopes to squash any chance of Auburn pulling out another moral victory in this years Iron Bowl.