Who can beat the Georgia Bulldogs?
Can Tebow do it again?
These are the questions swirling around the Southeastern Conference and the rest of college football nation. The expectations are high at both Georgia and Florida entering the upcoming season with both teams eyeing a national championship crown in January. The Bulldogs and Gators seem to be reaping in all of the media's attention, but what about the rest of the SEC? Georgia will not make it through the season undefeated and will not be contending for the national championship as a result of a brutal schedule. The Gators will contend and win the competitive Eastern division, but will fall in the SEC Championship game losing their bid to play in the title game. The leaves a questionable LSU club, a rising Volunteer squad, and a hungry, underrated Auburn Tigers.
We all remember 2004...Auburn entered the season with few expecations, minimal media attention, but the leadership and experience to win a championship. I'm not going to discuss the BCS, but I'll put in my two cents and express interest in a plus-one system. What is different between the 2004 squad and the 2008 class?
Not much...We enter the season in the top 15 again and our expectations have been shadowed by the Bulldogs and Gators. We have been picked to win the western division, but that is only because LSU dismissed Perilleaux and nobody has any idea what their quarterback situation looks like. We have experience with Jerraud Powers leading our secondary, Brad Lester running our backfield, and even Kodi Burns commanding the offense. Burns played more last year than people realize, and he came up huge in our bowl win over Clemson leading an offense that was put together in a matter of weeks.
Mario Fannin emerges as our go-to guy and the future star of the SEC and college football. He has the speed, agility, and awareness that reminds me of Cadillac Williams and the hands of Ronnie Brown. 2008 will be Fannin's break out year, and he will be a household name by the end of the year. Auburn has huge expectations for Fannin and he will be a major part of the success that the Tigers accomplish in the upcoming season.
Antonio Coleman, Jerraud Powers, and Tray Blackmon highlight a defense that will be among the best in the nation led by new defensive coordinator, Paul Rhodes from Pittsburgh. Coleman emerged as star of the defensive line last season while Powers became a force in the secondary forcing quarterbacks to throw away from his coverage. Both Coleman and Powers could be named All-Americans at the end of the season. Blackmon faced an unsurrmountable amount of pressure and expecations when he came to Auburn two years ago. He's already a legend for the Chris Leak "fumble" that led to the Gator's sole blemish in their championship run. Last season, he spent a majority of the season on the sidelines as a result of poor decisions as well as injuries. He has the potential to be an impact player in Rhodes' defense, and I believe this will be his year.
Our home schedule is one of our greatest strengths for the upcoming season. Auburn hosts LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. The only competitive road games are at West Virginia in November and Alabama. West Virginia will be the game of the year for Auburn because the Mountaineers will most likely be ranked in the top ten and a win will throw Auburn into the national spotlight while a loss will dismiss any talk of SEC dominance and national championship consideration. That Thursday night will prove to make or break the 2008 Auburn Tigers.
The LSU game will be another brutal battle that will come down to the final play as in the past four years. Auburn will emerge because of the home field advantage and the question at quarterback at LSU. The Georgia game could prove to be a battle of unbeatens, but Auburn will emerge. The Bulldogs visit Auburn on the heels of four consecutive road games, the last at Florida. The Tigers have a serious chip on their shoulder and will erase any memories of Georgia's dominance over the last two years by handing them their second straight loss and throwing them into obscurity and another "good" season for Mark Richt. Tennessee has considerable expectations entering the season, but Auburn has handled the Vols well in the past and the home crowd should help Auburn squeeze out another victory on the plains.
The SEC Championship will feature the Auburn Tigers and the undefeated Florida Gators vying for a shot in the national championship. The Gators will fall out of the race for the national championship and Auburn will receive a bid to play in New Orleans. The Gators will still land in the BCS but will be lose their shot at the national title.
Auburn has all of the elements to win a championship, and although this may not be the year, expecations should be high for the 2008 Auburn Tigers.
Any comments are welcome. War Eagle!