Auburn Football 2011: The Tigers' October Schedule Is Judgment Time
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 gauntlet 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, literally, is a rough road for the Auburn Tigers and a true test for the young team.
The season-opener against Utah State, made fans speculative about the future of this season for the Tigers. The defense lacked the aggressiveness from last year, but somehow, the team pulled it out with inspired offense, special teams play and a brilliant on-side kick; all in the final two minutes.
This Auburn team is inexperienced for the most part, and there are many rotations early on at almost every position, as even head coach Gene Chizik has admitted.
He’s filled his depth chart with 26 freshmen, loads of talent, but little experience. But somehow, the Tigers have been able to pull it out in the final minutes with Utah State, and a bizarre game against Mississippi State that went right down to the final ten seconds. Yet, they were still able to win, early on.
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 34-20, ending their national winning streak and also ending the winning streak against Clemson. There is something to be learned from this defeat.
But the real test, and potentially the tale of the way the season will end for the Tigers, begins Oct. 1 and continues like an out-of-control freight train for five weeks.
All October opponents are very tough SEC conference games; three of the five are away games, four of the five are nationally-ranked teams at this point and there is no bye week until after the Tigers get through this scrub board.
Oct. 1: At No. 12 South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks have a lot of payback to dole out after last season.
The Auburn Tigers embarrassed coach Steve Spurrier’s team in the SEC Championship game, with the fourth quarter as basically a coast for the Tigers. Auburn's now-starting quarterback, Barrett Trotter, substituted for Cam Newton in the fourth quarter and executed the final coffin nail to make it a 56–17 rout.
Trotter will be around to fend off SC’s retribution, but we’ll see if there is a good reason for the Gamecocks’ national ranking. They have beaten their opening opponents, East Carolina, Georgia, Navy and have a solid offense that flourishes under the tutelage of head coach Steve Spurrier and the experience of QB, Stephen Garcia.
Quite frankly, Spurrier’s visors have suffered enough, and he has put a strong South Carolina team on the field this year.
The Gamecocks actually have a decent shot at reaching the SEC Championship game again. Almost all of the players who got them there last year are returning, which includes Marcus Lattimore coming back after a stellar true freshman season at running back—much like Michael Dyer is doing for Auburn.
The receiving corps at SC is solid and returning all but one from last season. That includes one of the best receivers in the country in Alshon Jeffrey.
Stephen Garcia is back at quarterback, although begrudgingly for Spurrier, but he will compete with sophomore Connor Shaw, who relieved Garcia late in the SEC Championship game last year. Garcia has been getting most of the playing time.
Regardless of his alleged off-field, hard-partying ways, Garcia has the most passing yards of returning quarterbacks in the SEC with 3,059 in 2010. He completed 17-of-20 passes last year to beat Alabama and performed equally well against other conference powerhouses last year.
The Auburn offense will also have to get through a solid returning South Carolina defense that includes linebacker Shaq Wilson, and defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Both of the latter guys are around 6'7" and 260 pounds. The secondary is no slouch either, with cornerback Stephen Gilmore.
The Auburn running game—and by that I mean the offensive line—could have a significant test up against these guys, but then that was the case against Mississippi State and Clemson, and they seemed to handle them OK, just OK although they sputtered against Clemson.
Playing in Columbia doesn’t make the job any easier, and the Tigers will have four games under their belt, two of them wins so far, the only loss coming on the road to Clemson
Auburn will have their work cut out for them with South Carolina, and this is only the first of the five October hurdles.
Oct. 8: At No. 14 Arkansas
If the Tigers can get past the Gamecocks, they’ve got 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 waiting to pounce on you. It's fortunate that, in this case, you get to take them one at a time.
Auburn is on the road again for Arkansas in Fayetteville, their second road trip in a row after South Carolina.
Tyler Wilson, has an incredible arm, and although he saw limited action last year, Wilson looks pretty good.
The Razorbacks have put up some major scores offensively in their first few games of the season, but haven't faced major opponents yet. They tap Alabama and Texas A&M before taking on Auburn at home.
But, Wilson came in and did well right off the bench in 2010, against Auburn in fact. Although he's performing well at the beginning of the season as is Auburn’s Trotter, the Arkansas receiving corps is more experienced than Auburn’s and return to continue great play from last year. They could be one of the best receiving units in the country, despite the injuries to Greg Childs and Jarius Wright.
Probably the biggest plus for the Razorbacks is their defense. Head coach Bobby Petrino got six of last year’s starters back, with that necessary experience required to stop the Tigers.
The real test will come next weekend against Alabama, their first SEC game.
If Auburn can get by the Hogs, it's back home—but look who’s waiting for them.
Somebody left their Gator outside...
Oct. 15: No. 15 Florida—Home at Last!
Everything about the Florida Gators is new this year—well, at least the coaching staff is new, including head coach Will Muschamp. Muschamp is concentrating on running the defense, along with coordinator and line coach Dan Quinn.
One of Florida's weaknesses in 2010 was pass-rush, as they finished 10th in the conference last season.
But this year, the Gators have two sophomores who may have learned from that debacle of a defensive year as freshmen.
Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, as prospects in 2010, but admittedly had a lot to learn. Their blinding speed and enormous size will definitely test the young Auburn Tigers offense.
Sharrif Floyd had to serve a very questionable NCAA two-game suspension, but is back and will be right there in the Auburn game, after having gained the experience of play against Alabama and LSU; a seasoning that will get him prepared to face the Tigers.
Auburn starting QB Barrett Trotter doesn’t have the maneuverability of a Cam Newton, and Gators' defensive end Ronald Powell has a 4.5 40 to test the Tigers' front line, which is brand-new this year (only one starter returned from 2010). I would imagine that could help improve the pass-rushing numbers for Florida.
Gators quarterback John Brantley may have found his heart after a dismal 2010, his first year as a starter. Coach Muschamp is counting on that.
Let's also not forget that former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis seems to have found his sweet spot running the Florida offense as coordinator. They have put up some impressive numbers in the beginning of the season.
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.
The Gators could take a bite out of the Tigers as they fight through a nerve-wracking October.
For the Auburn Tigers’ sake, they should not be looking ahead to next game with LSU.
October 22: At No. 2 LSU
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.
The problem is they may have actually lost previous levels, but moved on anyway.
LSU has impressed the nation, handily beating the Oregon Ducks in the highly visible season opener in Dallas, a minor game against Northwestern State, and impressing with a Thursday night win at Mississippi State, the Bayou Bengals' first conference game.
Logically, they have moved up in the polls and there's talk of a national championship for the Tigers.
What a way to open a season, right?
However, the Bengal Tigers’ off-the-field antics originally had some bearing on their play, but in the first three games, LSU hasn't missed a step.
The suspension of previous starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson has only brought Jarrett Lee to light as a remarkable replacement. He's taking LSU offense to a competitive level with impressive numbers.
Auburn also 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.
By the time LSU and Auburn play at their eighth week, volumes more will be known about both teams.
Will Jefferson be reinstated? Not if Lee continues to perform at championship levels.
Will the Auburn Tigers' youth, talent, spirit and Mojo carry them through to win during October?
As it is and always shall be, this is Auburn-LSU, one of the best matchups the SEC can muster. But this year, it’s the fourth step of a steep ladder Auburn has to climb.
Oct. 29: Ole Miss
Rounding out a very hard October, the Auburn Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels, a team coming off a 4-8 2010 season and a losing beginning to 2011.
They lost their opener at home against BYU, in a squeaker 14-13, won their second game against Southern Illinois, but the dropped the jaws of fans by dropping their first conference game to Vandy 30-7.
Still, it's an SEC game, and head coach Houston Nutt has been known to be the spoiler, especially when not favored.
And, Ole Miss may or may not be the underdog against the Tigers this year, a lot will be known after the first four games of October.
Starting QB, junior Randall Mackey, was suspended for one game by coach Nutt because of a disorderly conduct charge after a fight in an Oxford bar; a pattern that seems to repeat across the SEC.
Mackey is back and regardless of the top running duo, Branden Bolden and Enrique Davis, out with injury, they have been replaced with Jeff Scott, who scored three touchdowns against Southern Illinois.
Depending on whether the Auburn offense continues to gel up to this point in the season, the Tigers may be able to walk through the Ole Miss defense unless those key injured Rebels players are back.
However, the Auburn team in general could be considerably beat up after the previous four games, so this game might be up for grabs.
Building Character and the Auburn Family
Think about it: playing South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, all in a row, three on the road.
At that point in the season, Auburn will need the upcoming bye week before the Georgia game to heal and regroup.
Now, don’t get me started! Even with the Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt on the hot seat, 1-2 at the beginning of the season, this is a rivalry only eclipsed by Auburn-Alabama, and probably the oldest rivalry in college football.
As to October, 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, building character and believing in these young Auburn Boys of Fall.
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 and the "All In" philosophy.
Even the loss at Clemson could be a positive note for the remainder of the season. It could be a blessing that it came early.
How he manages to get those five games into the W column is part of the magic of watching Auburn win, when they do, and anything is possible.
It ain't pretty, but its real!