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Phillip Marshall: Auburn faces a tough road back to top

April 29, 2014

Seventeen weeks from Saturday, an Auburn football season will begin with the highest of expectations. Not since 2003, when the Tigers were picked by The Sporting News and others to win the national championship and were No. 6 in the preseason polls, have expectations been so high.

Are those expectations justified? They certainly appear to be.

The list of players who have shown they can compete and win at the highest level is substantial, including the likes of quarterback Nick Marshall, wide receiver Sammie Coates, center Reese Dismukes, guard Alex Kozan, tight end C.J. Uzomah, defensive end Carl Lawson, linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, defensive tackle Gabe Wright, cornerback Jonathon Mincy, safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey and others.

Promising newcomers like D’haquille Williams, Peyton Barber and Derrick Moncrief are ready to show they belong.

Head coach Gus Malzahn and a staff of assistants with glittering credentials have clearly shown that they belong.

But caution is advised.

Expectations are high for other teams, too. Auburn must go on the road to play Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. It plays Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina at home. There might be other teams who face a gauntlet like that, but there aren’t many.

A very good team could lose some games against that schedule.

Every team is different, and this Auburn team can’t live off the accomplishments of last season’s Southeastern Conference champions. The difference between teams at the top of the SEC is small. One injury, one bad Saturday can take the shine off a potentially great season.

But this team certainly has an opportunity to make its own place in Auburn football history.

Moving on:

For more than six decades, Auburn’s football schedule has been the same at the end. Other than 2001, when LSU was moved to the end of the season because of 911, Georgia and Alabama have been the final two Southeastern Conference games. Maybe LSU would like to get a dose of that.

Or maybe LSU would like to have instate rivals like Florida State or Clemson or Georgia Tech instead of a bunch of directional schools.

Apparently, according to LSU coach Les Miles, playing Florida every season is an unreasonable burden on LSU. Auburn playing Georgia and vice versa? Not so much. Florida playing Florida State? South Carolina playing Clemson. Georgia playing Georgia Tech? Too bad. It’s all about LSU.

Miles started beating the drum last year at SEC Media Days. He continued it after SEC athletics directors agreed Sunday to stay with an eight-game conference schedule that includes one permanent crossover opponent for each school and also requires at least one nonconference game against a major conference opponent.

Some coaches made a good case for going to nine SEC games. A handful tried to do away with permanent crossover games, but commissioner Mike Slive would have no part of losing historic rivalries between Auburn and Georgia and between Alabama and Tennessee.

LSU has no such traditional rivals, particularly not in the East As recently as the 1970s, LSU didn’t even play Alabama every year and didn’t play Auburn every year until 1992. Florida as LSU’s permanent opponent makes as much as sense as any.

Honestly, listening to Miles talk, you’d sometimes think Alabama and LSU are the only West Division teams that matter. Yet, Auburn has won more SEC championships the last 10 years than either of them and has played in the same number of BCS Championship Games and won the same number of those games as LSU. And Auburn has done that playing Georgia every year.

Go figure.

First-year head coach Sunny Golloway's Auburn's baseball team has played at a high level in three consecutive SEC series. Winning two of three at Arkansas last weekend was big, to say the least. If the Tigers are to be a serious contender for postseason play, the must finish strongly in the final three regualr-season series. That starts with this weekend's showdown with Mississippi State at Plainsman Park.

First-year head coach Clint Myers' softball team probably punched its ticket to a regional with last weekend's sweep of Texas A&M. The Tigers close the regular-season with a three-game series at South Carolina.

In one season, Myers has made it clear that Auburn softball is headed for big things and is going to get there in a big hurry.

Until next time ...

Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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