Tigers Trying To Cope With High Expectations

Auburn senior center Joe Cope talks about this year's team and how the Tigers have dealt with being ranked in the Top 10.

Auburn, Ala.—The anticipation is high for Auburn's season opener with the Washington State Cougars as the team enters the year ranked fourth in the Associated Press Poll, the highest preseason ranking for an Auburn team since 1990.

That has been a cause for concern among some Auburn fans who remember ranked teams falling early in 2003 and then again last season, but each year is different. Both those teams were coming off strong finishes with the 2002 team winning five of its last six, including a victory over Penn State in the Capital One Bowl, and the 2004 team finishing the season undefeated.

This time around the mood of the team was quite different in the off season after being drubbed by Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl to end what had been a very good year to that point. That one loss could be just the thing to get the Tigers over their early season blues, center Joe Cope points out.

"We're looking so forward to it," Cope says. "They've been hounding us all year that we're only as good as our last game. We weren't that good against Wisconsin. We're excited. We want to get the season off to a good start and take it one game at a time. I'm real excited to play Washington State. They are a good opponent with a great defensive line. They're going to be fired up, too, so it should be a great ball game. I'm ready for the lights to cut on and get this game going."

Cope started 11 games last season for the Tigers at center.

As a senior and one of a veteran group of offensive linemen, Cope has been through all the emotions as a football player, but it is still tough to concentrate when this time of year rolls around. Because of that he says that it's important for the team to put all of its energy into the game Saturday night so they can come away with a victory.

"We're excited," Cope says. "That's a big thing to keep the emotions down so you can at least concentrate. Everybody is so fired up and we're tired of hitting each other. We talk about it all the time. I'm tired of going against our defense. I'm tired of going against Josh Thompson every single day. It gets old and you want to hit someone with a different color jersey on. We're counting it down. We're ready to get this game going and get this season on the road."

Before the game can be played though the Tigers spend countless hours working against a scout team filled with quality players who are either redshirting or haven't moved into the playing rotation just yet. Because of that Cope says the veterans have to make sure the young guys know they have to keep sharp and they sometimes have to remember that themselves.

"It just comes with you," Cope says. "It's not easy. The scout team guys, it's their mission in practice to give you the best look they can. They're going to do that. It's not 100 percent completely full speed where guys are diving and things like that, but they're giving you a good look. If you don't try hard on a play they'll embarrass you. They get praise for that and that's a good thing. I think these young guys will come around. They'll start realizing what it's all about. It's a mental thing, but it's also physical. You've got to do your job."

To prepare for the upcoming season the Tigers have been put through one of the toughest preseason practices of the Tommy Tuberville era at Auburn. It has been particularly challenging for the offensive line. With many of the backups out because of injuries for at least part of the preseason, the starters have logged many more reps that normal. Two full days off before Saturday evening's game should help the players be physically ready, but Cope says they would be ready rest or not.

"I think by far it's the hardest one (preseason) I've ever been through," Cope says. "We've really gotten after it and we've hit each other every single day, hitting each other in the mouth. I think it has made us tough, not only physically but mentally. We're ready.

"We're in the best shape we've ever been in," he adds. "Through summer conditioning with Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) and this two-a-days, things have really been a grind. I feel like we're in pretty good shape. We'll have our legs under us and we'll be ready to go."

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