The one we played in 1983, when I was the coach, was about as tough as they get, but I believe this year's schedule is more challenging. The thing that makes it so difficult is playing Top 10 ranked teams on the road like Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina.
In addition to those games, in September the Tigers played what is a still unbeaten Clemson on the road. I am not sure how good that team is, but it has impressed me. Clemson is ranked in the Top 10 nationally and is probably comparable to the Arkansas team Auburn faced in Fayetteville on Saturday, and that is not bad. I believe Arkansas is the third best team in the SEC this year behind LSU and Alabama.
Auburn has reached the halfway point of the regular season with a 4-2 record. I know it is not what the players and coaches want, but considering all of the questions about this year's team, about its defense, offense and kicking game, the record is about as good as it can be with so much inexperience in the lineup and the quality of competition.
With the Tigers returning home this week for what should be another test as Florida visits Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn will have a chance to earn another win in what should be an evenly matched game. Florida has more experienced players than Auburn, but the Gators are having to go with quarterbacks more inexperienced than Auburn's guys, which might prove to be an advantage for the home team.
Looking at it my from standpoint, I think the Tigers will match up pretty well vs. the Gators, a team many people probably assumed a month ago would likely come to Auburn and head home a winner. That could certainly happen, but I like Auburn's chances for several reasons.
Florida's strength is its speed on offense, but Auburn has a lot of speed on defense. Florida, in my opinion, hasn't been a great team on offense and although Auburn's offense is running the ball well, the Tigers need to get better throwing the football. Adding it all up, I think it will be a close game with Florida having the advantage of playing with a more experienced team while Auburn has the advantage of playing at home.
Auburn is coming off tough back-to-back road games vs. South Carolina and Arkansas, and that can take a toll on any team, but Florida is coming off back-to-back losses to Alabama and LSU, the teams that are the cream of the crop in the SEC this year so you know the Gators are likely going to be pretty beat up, too.
If Auburn can avoid making as many mistakes as the team made last Saturday night in Fayetteville, I think the Tigers will have a solid chance to start the second half of the season with a victory over a quality SEC opponent.
Meanwhile the two unbeaten teams in the SEC should continue to win this week. LSU has to travel to Tennessee, but I don't see that being a tough game now that the Vols have lost their starting quarterback. Alabama plays on the road, too, with a game at Ole Miss. With the maturity of that team the Tide should be able to beat the Rebels whether it is at the top of its game or not.
The front-runners in the SEC East look like they should win this week with Georgia at Vanderbilt and South Carolina traveling to Starkville to play a Mississippi State team that was dangerous early in the season, but obviously has some problems.
Mississippi State went into the season with very high expectations based on what that team did last year and who was returning, but lost a tough one at Auburn early and then fell at home to LSU. The injuries started to pile up and a team like Mississippi State doesn't have as much depth as some of the others in the SEC and can be seriously affected by the loss of front-line players. I think that is one of the reasons for the struggles. It will be a surprise to me if Coach Mullen can salvage the season considering how difficult it is to win games in the SEC West.