Auburn bracing for brutal October stretch
Auburn is bracing for the kind of October that could spring some big surprises or leave them fighting for their postseason life.
The Tigers (3-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) face a brutal stretch of four consecutive games against ranked SEC teams, including two top 10 powers.
They visit No. 10 South Carolina and No. 18 Arkansas the next two Saturdays, followed by a home game against No. 12 Florida and then a trip to top-ranked LSU.
''It's going to separate the men from the boys,'' Auburn cornerback T'Sharvan Bell said. ''Hopefully I don't have no boys fighting next to me because it's going to be tough in October. We've got a lot of guys ... that's why they come to Auburn, for this long stretch we've got. I don't think anybody is going to shy away from the challenge.''
The defending national champions can emerge with hopes for a winning season and decent bowl trip significantly bolstered or severely damaged. Lose all four - it's certainly possible - and the Tigers will need a strong finish to make any bowl game.
Even last year's team didn't have such a tough regular-season stretch. In fact, it could be the first time since 1987 that Auburn has faced four ranked opponents in a row if none of the four fall from the Top 25.
The Tigers are set to face three ranked teams on the road in a four-week span after only two such games in coach Gene Chizik's first two-plus seasons.
A mostly rebuilt Auburn clearly has some work to do with a struggling defense and offense that hasn't been nearly as potent or consistent as last year's group led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.
Maybe a lineup loaded with young players can make quick strides, the offensive line will become more consistent or quarterback Barrett Trotter will find a groove with experience.
Or the league's lowest-rated defense could struggle even more in facing the league's three highest scoring teams.
''It's certainly challenging,'' Chizik said. ''It's what makes the league great. But you know, it's going to be four great football teams that we have to play in the next month and we knew it was on the horizon.
''It's just here, but it's a great challenge and we'll see how our team responds. I feel good about it and feel good about going in there and having a lot of fun taking the challenge and embracing the challenge and seeing where we stand on the road.''
The upcoming opponents all represented key, and entertaining, wins for last season. The Tigers rallied to beat South Carolina in the regular season and won easily in the SEC championship game rematch.
The 65-43 win over Arkansas was the highest scoring, non-overtime SEC matchup ever. And Newton ran for 217 yards in a 24-17 win over LSU in a showdown between two top six teams.
This Auburn team approaches a month that ends with a trip to Mississippi without the same swagger or a do-it-all quarterback. Receiver Emory Blake insists he's looking forward to it.
''I love it,'' Blake said. ''Everyone's going to be watching us every week. It's just another chance to shine and show everybody what we're about. It's just another chance to prove ourselves.''