Countdown: Athlon Sports No. 5

The top two tight ends are gone and kicker Damon Duval needs to be replaced, but otherwise coach Tommy Tuberville's club is still up and running from last year. Auburn is blessed with such a ridiculous surfeit at tailback (Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs), that Tuberville will be challenged to keep them all involved.

Jacobs, the nation's highest-rated juco transfer, is 6'4", 257 with reputed 4.4 speed. Jason Campbell went 5–1 as the starting quarterback last year, including wins over three top 10 opponents, and currently tops the school career charts with a 63-percent completion average.

Freshman All-American Dontarrious Thomas decided to put off the NFL for another year.

The Tigers open with Southern Georgia loom large.

The West was won: Auburn has won or tied for the SEC West title each of the last three seasons.

Ready when needed: Ronnie Brown netted over 1,000 rushing yards last season despite not starting a game until midseason.

2-to-1: Brown outrushed Larry Johnson in the Capital One Bowl 184 yards to 72.

2002 results: 9–4 (5–3 SEC)

2002 Bowl Game: Beat Penn State 13-9 in Capital One Bowl

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense, no kickers

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 USC
S. 6 at Georgia Tech
S. 13 at Vanderbilt
S. 27 Western Kentucky
O. 4 Tennessee
O. 11 at Arkansas
O. 18 Mississippi State
O. 25 at LSU
N. 1 Louisiana-Monroe
N. 8 Ole Miss
N. 15 at Georgia
N. 22 Alabama

Schedule Analysis: The toughest game of the season for the Tigers might very well be the first. USC beat Auburn in last year's opener and is poised for another big season. Auburn may be catching the Trojans at the right time, however, as USC will be breaking in a new quarterback in what will surely be a hostile environment. Tennessee and Alabama are also at home for Auburn. The two biggest challenges will be road trips to LSU and Georgia, the latter of which could be a preview of the SEC Championship game.

Final Word: Auburn stayed out of the national spotlight last season, getting ranked just once in the first 12 AP polls and never being ranked higher than 19 during the regular season. But a close look at its season reveals a seven-point loss at USC, a Hail Mary loss to Georgia, and a blocked field goal that led to a loss at Tommy Tuberville in his fifth year on the Plains, Auburn could be headed to New Orleans.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Southeastern edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Southeastern and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#5 Auburn

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