Talk of a national championship was in the air until the night of Aug. 30. USC came with a reality check, winning 23-0 at jam-packed Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the game that really turned the 2003 Auburn season downward came a week later. Still reeling from the disappointment, the Tigers lost 17-3 at Georgia Tech.
In the Grant Field press box, former president William Walker called athletic director David Housel out of his booth and delivered a profanity-laced tirade. Walker, an engineer who knew about as much about football as he did about telling the truth, had friends at Georgia Tech and was embarrassed.
Thus began Auburn's season of discontent.
Over the next six months, Auburn's athletic department and the university as a whole would be shaken to the core. The ill-fated trip to Louisville by Walker, Housel and trustees Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin on a Colonial Bank airplane set off a chain reaction that continues today.
Walker resigned and was replaced by Chainsaw, er, I mean interim president Ed Richardson. Housel agreed to retire at the end of the year. Football coach Tommy Tuberville, his job all but lost in November, got a new contract with a $4 million buyout. Richardson fired basketball coach Cliff Ellis and baseball coach Steve Renfroe. He's still cutting in other areas of the university.
And next Saturday, another football season begins.
The hype of 2003 is missing, but there is a quiet confidence on Auburn's football team. Fact is, most people close to the program feel better about this team than last year's team.
The offense is loaded with talented athletes. The offensive line has more talent and depth than any at Auburn in recent memory, and first-year coordinator Al Borges has inspired confidence in everyone around him.
There are questions, of course, on defense. Five of last year's front seven are gone. At last report, all five were still on NFL rosters. But there are potential answers, good answers, at all of those positions. The secondary, cause of much concern since the loss of David Irons, has essentially the same players as last year.
So what should we expect? There's nothing much less valuable than preseason predictions, as the Tigers discovered to their dismay last season.
But, hey, I have to fill this space with something. I'm not going to try to pick winners and losers months down the road, but here's how I would handicap Auburn games. Remember, these are "betting" lines, not predictions.
Sept. 4: Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn. No line. Though the Indians will certainly put up more of a fight than last season, they don't have the size or speed to keep up.
Sept. 11: Auburn at Mississippi State. Auburn by 14. It will be the first home game for Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom. The Tigers would be well-advised not to go to Scott Field thinking it will be easy.
Sept. 18: LSU at Auburn. LSU by 3. Nick Saban is 0-2 at Jordan-Hare Stadium by a combined score of 65-24, but the Bayou Bengals are a talented bunch. This one should be one of the season's better games.
Sept. 25: The Citadel at Auburn. No line. It won't even be a good scrimmage.
Oct. 2: Auburn at Tennessee. Tennessee by 2. Freshman quarterback or no freshman quarterback, the Vols are tough at home.
Oct. 9: Louisiana Tech at Auburn. Auburn by 17. The Bulldogs seldom go quietly at Jordan-Hare.
Oct. 23: Kentucky at Auburn. Auburn by 20. The Wildcats don't have enough talent and aren't likely to have enough in the near future.
Oct. 30: At Ole Miss. Pick ‘em. It will be Auburn's ninth consecutive game without an open date, and it will be on the road against a quality opponent.
Quarterback David Greene is the catalyst for Georgia's offense.
Nov. 13: Georgia at Auburn. Georgia by 3. Homefield advantage doesn't usually mean much when the Tigers and Bulldogs play.
Nov. 20: Auburn at Alabama. Auburn by 7. The Crimson Tide might be playing to go to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons.
Add it up, and Auburn is favored in seven games, a slight underdog in three games and one game is even. If the Tigers can win the ones they?re supposed to win and win two of those other four, it will be a big year.
Can they do it? The answers are about to start coming.