SEC slates: Auburn

At first glance, Auburn's 2009 football schedule appears to be a joke. Except for West Virginia, the non-conference slate – Louisiana Tech, Ball State and Furman – looks to be weaker than a recycled tea bag.

A closer look, however, reveals that the Tigers' opposition is a little tougher than it first appears.

Though traditionally a Homecoming foe, Louisiana Tech stepped up and went 8-5 last season. The Bulldogs opened the '08 season by beating Mississippi State and closed it by beating Independence Bowl foe Northern Illinois by more points (7) than Tennessee did (4).

Ball State, meanwhile, won its first 12 games last fall before bowing to Buffalo (42-24) in the MAC title game and to Tulsa (45-13) in the GMAC Bowl.

Furman, though a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-AA), went 7-5 last year and gave nationally ranked Football Bowl Subdivision foe Virginia Tech a competitive game before losing 24-7.

Of course this doesn't mean Tiger fans will forgive new Auburn head man Gene Chizik if he loses to Tech, Ball State or Furman; it just means those programs are stronger than their reputations.

As for the conference portion of Auburn's schedule, it's no walk in the park, either. The Tigers manage to avoid the SEC East's top team, Florida, but they face both Georgia and Tennessee on the road. Auburn also must travel to LSU and Arkansas.

Chizik's SEC home schedule features two tough foes – Ole Miss (Oct. 31) and Alabama (Nov. 28) - plus two not-so-tough foes – Mississippi State (Sept. 19) and Kentucky (Oct. 17).

October finds the Tigers playing at Tennessee, at Arkansas, vs. Kentucky, at LSU and vs. Ole Miss in what shapes up to be a very taxing month. Worse, Auburn plays 11 consecutive Saturdays before finally getting an open date before the regular-season finale against Alabama.

Bottom line: Auburn's record will hinge on how it fares in those five rugged October outings. If the Tigers go 3-2, they could wind up in a mid-level bowl game. If they go 1-4 in October, though, another 5-7 finish appears likely.

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