Marshall Handicaps the 2005 AU Football Season:

Columnist Phillip Marshall handicaps the upcoming Auburn season as the Tigers defend the SEC Championship.

Auburn's 13-0 record last football season has resulted in a lot of predictable perks as the 2005 season nears.

Auburn players are showing up on various "watch lists" for individual awards. The demand for tickets is as heavy or heavier than it's ever been. Donations are up. Those things happen when you have a season for the ages.

There is danger, too, in that gaudy accomplishment. Expectations can get out of control. In college football, meeting expectations is often the gauge of success. For some teams, that means winning 10 games. For others, that means having a winning record and going to a bowl game. For a few, that means winning championships.

In the Southeastern Conference, gauging success only by championships is to ask to be disappointed. Danger lurks on too many autumn weekends.

Auburn will go into the season as the hunted. A victory over the Tigers will be one to be cherished. As I have done in this space the past two years, here is what I think the odds would be on Auburn's games this season.

And for the third straight year, I stress these are NOT predictions. They are, instead, what I would make the betting lines if I were a handicapper. Thank God, I'm not, because my family would go hungry.

Sept. 3: Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have some talent, but they don't have enough that a victory wouldn't be a surprise. Auburn by 9.

Sept. 10: Mississippi State. Sylvester Croom knows where he wants to go, but it's going to take a while for him to get there. Auburn by 24.

Sept. 17: Ball State. Everybody loves the MAC, but Ball State won't stir up much excitement. Auburn by 28.

Sept. 24: Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are good in their league. They aren't in Auburn's league. Auburn by 35.

Oct. 1: South Carolina. The Gamecocks have Steve Spurrier, but he's too old to play. Auburn by 17.

Oct. 15: at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are never great, but they are usually good and always tough at home. Auburn by 4.

Oct. 22: at LSU. This game will probably decide who wins the West. LSU by 4.

Marshall sees Auburn's trip to LSU as the first underdog situation for the Tigers in 2005.

Oct. 29: Ole Miss. Ed Orgeron has shown he can scream and yell, but can he coach? Auburn by 10.

Nov. 5: at Kentucky. Poor Rich Brooks. He's a good coach, but Kentucky is where football coaching careers go to die. Auburn by 21.

Nov. 12: at Georgia. The Bulldogs have plenty of talent. They also have plenty of question marks. Georgia by 3.

Nov. 19: Alabama. Auburn still has a significant talent edge and will for a while. Auburn by 8.

As you can see, by my calculations, Auburn is an underdog in just two games. As it stands today, the Tigers could face some danger in four others – Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia Tech.

But things can change in a hurry. Injuries can let the air out of any team's season. Some teams simply won't be as good as expected because things just don't come together. Some will be better than expected. So it always is.

Moving on...

*Former Auburn defensive end Bret Eddins is hanging tough with the New York Giants. The Giants, unlike most other NFL teams, have had their signees working in New Jersey since shortly after the draft. Many who signed as free agents have been cut, but Eddins has received rave reviews for his work ethic and football savvy. He seems likely to go to training camp with a chance at earning a spot on the roster...

*From my vantage point, it looks like Auburn will go into the season with the best wide receivers, best tight end, best linebackers, best offensive line, best nose guard and best defensive ends in the SEC...

*The SEC will likely be somewhat unpredictable in the coming season. Why? Three of the favorites – Auburn, LSU and Georgia – will have new starting quarterbacks...

Jay Cutler

*The best quarterback in the league? In terms of pure talent, it's probably Florida's Chris Leak. Alabama's Brodie Croyle has a chance to be special if he can stay healthy. Others, like Auburn's Brandon Cox, are unknowns because they haven't been in the heat of the battle. But if I had to pick one, I believe I'd take Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler...

Until next time...

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