Years ago, back when college football schedules were born, nothing was known about the teams Auburn would face in 2011, nor the order of the schedule that would create such a series of battles for the Tigers in October.
Schedules are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.
But, the month of October, 2011, from day one, is a rough road for the Auburn Tigers and a true test for the young team that to date, hasn't shown much against even mediocre opponents.
The season opener against Utah State made fans speculative about the future of this season due to an aggressive-less defense and inconsistent offense. Somehow, the team pulled it out with inspired last-minute offense, special teams play and a brilliant on-side kick, all in the final two minutes.
The depth chart is filled with freshmen with loads of talent, but little experience. The second Tigers' game against Mississippi State went right down to the final 10 seconds. Yet, they were still able to win to go 2-0 and 1-0 in the SEC.
Then came the Clemson Tigers.
Historically tied, as in the foundation of the Clemson program, these two teams have always had a rivalry that could rarely be explained, but yet, here we are, the Tigers from Clemson beating the Tigers of Auburn 38-24, ending their national winning streak and also ending the winning streak against Clemson.
There is something to be learned from this defeat. The loss of both streaks was more devastating than the actual loss was to the AU season record, at least in the press and to the fans.
The next game against Florida Atlantic was nothing more than a workout for adjustments the team had to make on both sides of the ball.
It gave them a chance to work out some of the inexperienced players, rest some starters and get those adjustments down since they'll be necessary to execute better, starting off down the rough road of October.
That's when the test starts, beginning Oct. 1 and continuing like an out-of-control freight train for five weeks.
All October opponents are tough SEC conference games. Three of the five are away games; four of the five are nationally-ranked teams, and the No. 1 team in the county. And, there is no bye week until after the Tigers get through this scrub board.
The Auburn Tigers embarrassed the Gamecocks in the SEC Championship game last year. The fourth quarter was basically a coast for the Tigers.
This year, Auburn certainly doesn't have the same team, and last year is gone for sure. SC is still on track to win the SEC East with most of their starters back.
They can't seem to get a handle on quarterback, with Stephen Garcia getting most of the calls, but there is an issue at the position.
He threw four interceptions against Vandy last week, and head coach Steve Spurrier threw his visor and headset just four minutes into the game. It was quite sloppy.
But, the Gamecocks are 4-0 on the season. beating their opening opponents East Carolina, Georgia, Navy and Vanderbilt.
But their wins haven't been pretty, and there is the question of whether they've actually faced a noteworthy team so far.
Spurrier actually felt compelled to apologize for what he called, a "putrid offensive performance. But, we won the game." That sounds somewhat familiar.
Part of that offense includes Marcus Lattimore, who's getting a lot of press, but honestly, against Vandy on 20 carries he only ran for 77 yards. The receiving corp didn't fare very well either, with star Alshon Jeffery only getting two catches for 34 yards.
It was clearly the defense that bailed out South Carolina against Vandy.
But what does that mean for Auburn?
AU will need a more consistent mindset, on both sides against the Gamecocks in order to keep up. Florida Atlantic was truly an exercise or scrimmage to help work out the kinks on adjustments that were needed after Clemson.
So, against the SC defense, a quick, focused offense, using Dyer more often and a balanced attack could help the Tigers keep up.
On defense, just grab a few of those Garcia miscues, get him flustered and Spurrier will be throwing things again. Will that happen? On any given Saturday...
But, this is only the first of the five October hurdles.
After the Gamecocks, the Tigers have the Hogs waiting to chase them down.
October, for Auburn, is kind of like getting into a brawl with five thugs; you put one down, and there’s another one just as tough, or tougher, waiting to pounce on you. It's fortunate that, in this case, you get to take them one at a time.
Auburn will be on the road again for Arkansas in Fayetteville, their second road trip in a row in October, after South Carolina.
Arkansas will have just come from a huge game in Dallas against new SEC member No. 14 Texas A&M, and who knows at this point how beat up the Razorbacks will be after going through Alabama, then A&M.
Hogs QB Tyler Wilson has an incredible arm and looked great early in the season.
The Razorbacks had put up some major scores offensively, scoring over 100 points in just their first two games. However, the Tide held them to 14 points and shut down the passing game.
Wilson's toughness is no longer in question after this past weekend against the No. 1 defense, Alabama. He was roughed up pretty good and kept on ticking.
Does Auburn have the guns to get to Wilson and inflict some damage to the Arkansas passing game? At this point, it's questionable at best.
Probably the biggest plus for the Razorbacks is their defense, since head coach Bobby Petrino got six of last year’s starters back, with that necessary experience required to stop the Tigers.
If Auburn can get by the Hogs, it's back home—but look who’s waiting for them.
Somebody left their Gator outside...
By the time the Auburn Tigers meet the Florida Gators, the Swamp Dwellers will have been through a buzzsaw of a schedule themselves.
After handily beating Kentucky 48-10 last weekend, the Gators now have to play No. 3 Alabama, then No. 1 LSU—the Bengal Tigers in Death Valley—before heading to the Plains to meet Auburn.
That could go either way for the Tigers, depending on the outcome for Florida.
Everything about the Florida Gators is new this year—but they seem to be dealing with new head coach Will Muschamp quite well, now at 4-0 on their season.
The Gators can score quickly, demoralizing to even the most seasoned defenses.
Against Kentucky this past week, they scored three touchdowns in four and a half minutes.
The Auburn defense we've seen so far could definitely fall prey to that and kill any momentum they might have built on offense.
Defensively, the Gators held Kentucky to 134 yards, and they did not get any running game going at all. Running the ball, or at least balancing with the pass, is key to Auburn's offense. This may need to change before Florida comes to town
For Auburn, they can count their blessings this game isn’t in the Swamp, but at home after two in a row away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Still, this is Florida—a competitive foe in good and bad seasons. This season, at this point, is going in the Gators' favor.
For the Auburn Tigers’ sake, they should not be looking ahead to the next game with LSU. I would want to forget that it was coming.
Auburn may look back down the October road they have trodden the previous three weeks and feel like they’re in a video game. Each level gets harder.
What can I say? LSU has impressed the nation, handily beating the Oregon Ducks in the highly visible season opener in Dallas, a minor game against Northwestern State, an impressing win at Mississippi State and then a clear dominance over the Mountaineers Saturday night.
Logically, they should be voted No. 1 at this point in the season. They have the momentum.
But, seasons are like games; they have their ups and downs.
By the time the Bengal Tigers meet Auburn, they will have played Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee. They shouldn't have a problem with either of those opponents coming into the Auburn game, but the Gators and Vols could be a threat.
After those games, Auburn picks up the Bengal Tigers in Death Valley at night, a combination that favors LSU in winning percentages.
Auburn at LSU in 1988 was the combination for the legendary "Earthquake Game," where LSU won 7-6. The winning LSU touchdown caused such an uproar from the crowd it registered as a legitimate earthquake on the seismograph at the Louisiana Geological Survey.
But still, as of this writing, Auburn has a way of winning, at least three times so far.
As it is and always shall be, this is Auburn-LSU, one of the best match-ups the SEC can muster historically. Maybe Auburn's Voodoo Chicken will prevail.
This year, it’s just the fourth step of a steep ladder for Auburn that could determine the season overall.
Rounding out a very hard October, the Auburn Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels, a team having a very rough 2011 so far.
The Rebels are 1-3 on the season and 0-2 in the SEC.
So, why do I put this game in the rough scrub board of October for Auburn? There are a couple reasons.
One, it wraps up October neatly in a comfortable bow, with what should be an easy win for the Tigers at home.
Two, because Houston Nutt is no slouch as a coach, and he might make necessary adjustments, just like Auburn needs to make by then, in order to compete the rest of the season.
It's also an SEC West game, and who knows how important it will be for the Tigers at this point in time.
Auburn may not have improved either, so an improved Ole Miss could be a tough opponent by the end of October.
It is a classic SEC matchup in the style of the traditional conference. Get used to the phrase "traditional conference" as more outside teams are added.
The Rebels lost their opener at home against BYU in a squeaker, 14-13, won their second game against Southern Illinois, but then dropped the jaws of fans by losing their first conference game to Vandy 30-7.
The loss to a questionable Georgia team at home last Saturday just drilled in the fact that Ole Miss is in need of improvement just like Auburn is. The only difference is Auburn is winning.
The Auburn team in general could be considerably beat up after the previous four games, so this game might be up for grabs. Watch for updates to this article as the weeks go by in October
By the beginning of November, Auburn will need the bye week before the Georgia game to heal and regroup.
Georgia game? Well, that one has precedence, just like the Alabama game, but fodder for another article when we get to that point.
As to October, think about it: playing South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, all in a row, three on the road. Given the way this season has started, one could never imagine a positive outcome for all that.
I think head coach Gene Chizik will relish these five weeks as the supreme test of his team, his program, how he teaches, what he teaches, his staff, building character and believing in these young Auburn Boys of Fall, and visa versa.
For a very young and inexperienced Tiger team, you couldn’t come up with a better scenario to build for the future. The Auburn Tigers can only become stronger given the foundation Gene Chizik creates in the AU Family with the "All In" philosophy.
Even the loss at Clemson could be a positive note for the remainder of the season. The blessing is that it came early.
How Chizik manages to get those five games into the W column is anybody's guess at this point. Sometimes, though, Auburn just figures out how to win.
It ain't pretty, but it's real!