SEC West: Auburn

Auburn has won or shared the Southeastern Conference Western Division title five of the past six years. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers could make it six of seven in 2006. They look to be the class of the division again.

As is usually the case with championship-caliber teams, Auburn can run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons rushed for 1,293 yards last fall and should be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. Towering tackle Marcus McNeil is gone to the NFL but both guards and the starting center from 2005 return to the blocking front.

The Tigers won't pass much but Brandon Cox proved himself capable as a sophomore one year ago, rallying from a poor start to connect on 57.8 percent of his throws for 2,324 yards and 15 touchdowns. The top three receivers from '05 are out of eligibility, so injury-plagued Courtney Taylor needs to stay healthy and live up to his eye-popping potential.

Auburn returns three of four starters from last fall's defensive front, along with one linebacker and safety Will Herring, the leading tackler in '05.

Since Al Borges became the offensive coordinator two years ago the Tigers have won 15 of 16 SEC games. They would be 16 for 16 if kicker John Vaughn hadn't missed five field goals in last year's 20-17 overtime loss at LSU. Borges' troops led the SEC in scoring (32.2 points per game) and total offense (409.8 yards per game) in 2005, while finishing second in rushing (194.1 yards per game). The '06 attack should be even better.

The Tigers' 2005 defense wasn't too shabby, either, ranking sixth nationally by allowing just 15.5 points per game. Six starters are gone from that unit but none will be missed significantly.

Finally, the schedule is kind. Auburn's four toughest SEC opponents – LSU, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia – will be played at home. If the Tigers can win at South Carolina and at Alabama, they just might run the table in league play.

TOMORROW: My take on Les Miles' LSU Tigers.

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