Best Case And Worst Case Scenarios For Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Auburn football team's stretch run.

Based on preseason expectations, nothing short of winning the Southeastern Conference championship-- or at least getting to the championship game--can make this Auburn football season a success in the eyes of many people. For that to happen, in all probability the Tigers will have to beat Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. LSU, of course, will also have to lose to Alabama, Ole Miss or Arkansas. The Bayou Bengals won't lose again if they play in every game like they did in beating Auburn 31-7, but if they play like they did in losing 19-7 to Florida at home they could lose to any or all of their three remaining opponents.

Auburn, at this point, can't spend a lot of time worrying about what LSU does. The Tigers must take care of their own business or it won't matter. There are some reasons to believe Auburn could win out and there are some reasons to believe Auburn could go 0-for-3.

Reasons Auburn could win out:

*The Tigers have one of the better defensive front sevens in school history. Few teams in college football can match the starting lineup of Reggie Torbor, Spencer Johnson, Demarco McNeil and Bret Eddins up front and Karlos Dansby, Dontarrious Thomas and underrated Travis Williams at linebacker. There is quality depth behind them.

*Two of the critical three games are at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The one that isn't at Jordan-Hare Stadium is at Georgia's Sanford Stadium, where Auburn has won five straight and nine of the last 10.

*Despite the offense's struggles, the best group of tailbacks in the nation still plays for Auburn.

As much as Tommy Tuberville's history shows a tendency to occasionally lose by lopsided scores, it also shows a tendency to come back strongly from those debacles.

If there is one thing this Auburn team doesn't lack, it is senior leadership. Dansby, Torbor, McNeil and friends will make sure their teammates' are ready to play.

*Ole Miss should not be able to match Auburn physically on the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. Georgia is severely beat up. Alabama is severely beat up and didn't have much depth to begin with.

The Tigers are remarkably healthy for this point in the season. If defensive end Doug Langenfeld returns as expected and no one is injured in Saturday's scrimmage against Louisiana-Monroe, all hands should be ready to go for the stretch run.

Reasons Auburn could lose some or all of its remaining games:

*Against teams of better, equal or near equal athletic ability, the offense has scored more than 10 points just once. Is that going to change in the final three games?

*As strong as the defensive front seven is, those guys can't cover wide receivers. The secondary is shaky at best, even with Junior Rosegreen moving to safety. It appeared to be the weak link in Auburn's defense during two-a-days and the season has borne that out. Last season, the Tigers intercepted 21 passes. This season they have intercepted five, one of those by McNeil. When two of the top three cornerbacks are walk-ons and two of the top three safeties are redshirt freshmen, that is not a good situation. That alone probably should have raised alarm bells for those picking Auburn in the preseason to win the national championship or even the SEC championship. No departed player has been missed more than Travaris Robinson.

The two best quarterbacks in the SEC are waiting. Ole Miss' Eli Manning and Georgia's David Greene are 1-2 in the SEC in passing yards per game. Manning, having a career season, is also No. 1 in passing efficiency. Combine that with Auburn's troubles in the secondary and you have the potential for trouble. Alabama's Brodie Croyle also has the ability to exploit that secondary. Even in a 28-21 loss, Tennessee's Casey Clausen passed for 355 yards against the Tigers.

Neither Philip Yost nor John Vaughn has made a field goal that mattered since Vaughn made one in the first half against Georgia Tech.

Only against Tennessee were the Tigers able to throw the ball down the field enough to loosen up a talented defense.

So there you have it. This could still be a season to celebrate, it could be one of the all-time Auburn disappointments or something in between. The next three-plus weeks are going to be interesting indeed.


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