We are now into the nitty gritty. Auburn jump-starts our final five in the Athlon preseason Top 25 Countdown at No. 5. The Tigers are looking to win their first SEC title since 1989.
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
Freshman All-American Cooper Wallace will fill the void at tight end, with both starting offensive tackles and guards returning from '02. Auburn's defensive front ranks with the best in the nation, especially since senior linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas decided to put off the NFL for another year.
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 Penn State's 2000-yard tailback 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
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 SEC 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 Florida. Auburn was very close to a breakout season, and it still tied for the SEC West title. With loads of talent and experience coming back and coach Tommy Tuberville in his fifth year on the Plains, Auburn could be headed to New Orleans.
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