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The Times' preseason college football countdown: No. 20 Auburn

The Tigers lost quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and their chance of repeating as national champions seems as improbable as their winning it all last season.

August 11, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Auburn Coach Gene Chizik talks to quarterback Kiehl Frazier during a practice last week.
Auburn Coach Gene Chizik talks to quarterback Kiehl Frazier during a practice… (Mark Almond / Associated…)

We realize Auburn is an alpha male from a Bulldog-eat-Bulldog conference but, come on, last year's run to the national title was about as improbable as Vanderbilt winning it.

Auburn launched from No. 22 in the preseason Associated Press poll, just ahead of Georgia, Oregon State and West Virginia.

Those schools combined to finish 20-17 while Auburn ripped off a 14-0 year for the ages and, ultimately, the investigators.

The highest Auburn was ranked anywhere important was, um, here, where the Tigers checked in at No. 18 in the preseason.

We wrote then: "The Tigers should be competitive in the rugged SEC West."

Yeah, that and the USA West (of Brooklyn).

Fans who once jeered the hiring of Gene Chizik, a 5-19 coach at Iowa State, suddenly wanted to ride shotgun on the parade float.

"The journey from this point in time last year to now has been incredible for us," Chizik said in July.

Incredible ride, led by incredible quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle/pocket destroyer Nick Fairley. The 24-0 comeback win in Tuscaloosa is now the standard comeback line for any Alabama joke told on Auburn for the next 100 years.

Whether Auburn's title was "credible" is still a topic of discussion.

There's no getting around the controversial back story. USC, seemingly shackled for years because of Reggie Bush, wonders how Auburn wasn't punished for a rule that was allegedly broken.

Newton's father reportedly shopped his son to Mississippi State for $180,000, but no one has proved —-and may never prove — Cam was shopped to Auburn.

The NCAA has not, however, declared Auburn a cold case, as Chizik found out at a Southeastern Conference spring meeting. The New York Times reported Chizik confronted an NCAA official about the investigation, saying it was hurting his recruiting. "You'll know when we're finished," Chizik was told.

Chizik says the probe hasn't taken any joy out of last year's title run, though his face told a different story at SEC media days.

"I feel great about where we are as a football program," Chizik said. "I sleep really good every night when my head hits the pillow. That's what I can control."

We've dropped Auburn two slots this year knowing there's no chance they'll win the Bowl Championship Series title this year.

Losing Newton and Fairley isn't losing two players … it's losing your arm and your leg.

Newton's replacement will be Barrett Trotter … or Clint Moseley … or Kiehl Frazier.

Auburn's schedule is especially brutal. The Tigers play at Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana State and Georgia with home tests against Florida and Alabama.

Auburn has excellent players, though, especially running backs Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. But Auburn fans should be happy if the Tigers are half as good as last year, so that means seven wins.

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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