The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.
No. 18 Auburn
Going 8-5 at Auburn the same year Alabama goes 14-0 and wins the national title might seem like time to plan a Hawaiian trip for the sole purpose of jumping into an active volcano.
Yet, strangely, it wasn't all daggers and doom on the Plains.
Auburn fans are just glad it's not two years ago, when things were really bleak.
That's when the whole Peyton Place turned on Coach Tommy Tuberville after he had the audacity to post his second losing season in 10 years.
Tuberville had averaged more than 10 wins in his last four years and his cumulative record was 85-40.
His 2004 team went 13-0 the same year USC won the Bowl Championship Series title it's going to have to vacate. Auburn fans, as we speak, are attempting to rewrite history and get themselves a piece of that-there title, even if there's no way to assume Auburn would have defeated Oklahoma in the title game. (Auburn sneaked past Virginia Tech, 16-13, in the Sugar Bowl.)
Four years later, Auburn went 5-7, and it was the season of the 3-2 win over Mississippi State and the 36-0 loss to Alabama.
Auburn higher-ups paid Tuberville off and sought out the best man to take on Nick Saban over in Tuscaloosa, choosing Gene Chizik, who had gone 5-19 at Iowa State.
Auburn fans were less than amused.
Chizik, though, turned 5-7 into 8-5 his first year, gave Alabama a game, and beat Northwestern in an exciting bowl game. Chizik also played 15 true freshmen and had an outstanding recruiting class, leading to the promise of 2010.
"This is a long-term plan," Chizik cautioned recently at the Southeastern Conference media days. "This is a long-term vision."
Auburn fans read "long-term" as being a week or two.
The Tigers need to replace a few body parts, namely the starting quarterback and tailback.
Chizik thinks he found something in passer Cam Newton, who started his career at Florida, realized Tim Tebow wasn't going to budge and wisely transferred to Blinn ( Texas) Community College.
Newton led Blinn to a No. 1-in-the-nation end-of-season ranking, making him the perfect fit for a school that is certain it should have captured one in 2004.
It will be a tall order replacing Chris Todd, but Newton is 6 foot 6.
"He wants to be a great football player," Chizik said of Newton. "He really, really does."
Auburn also has to replace 1,000-yard rusher Ben Tate, but there seems to be enough hay in the barn to think 8-5 is something the Tigers can build on.
Auburn won't go 13-0 again because Citadel and Louisiana Tech aren't part of the nonconference component — Clemson is — yet the Tigers should be competitive in the rugged SEC West.
"We want to put a championship team on the football field," Chizik said.
It's going to take iron will … and the Iron Bowl.
The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn.