There weren't many Auburn fans that predicted this kind of start to the season. Even with two new coordinators, a new quarterback and a few other new starters, things seemed to be heading toward a respectable season. Now, that seems nearly impossible.
Everyone knew this would be another rebuilding year. It's hard to lose as much as Auburn did from an eight-win season and go into the next year as an SEC contender.
After one win and three losses, Auburn gets a chance to take a break and replenish things on its bye week before starting the October schedule. Starting out the season with poor offensive production and nervy defense wasn't planned, but there is definitely a lot of room and potential for growth. The October games, in a nutshell, are very winnable.
After Auburn returns from its bye week, the Tigers get a home matchup against Arkansas, a program that is in pieces right now. Despite the struggles in Fayetteville, Arkansas' pass-heavy offense will prove challenging. The Razorbacks still have a future NFL quarterback in Tyler Wilson and many other weapons that can catch any team out. This is a must-win game for Auburn if there has ever been one. Arkansas is a team that tends to catch Auburn flat-footed, regardless of Auburn's or its own prior results. Getting a win here, no matter how ugly or beautiful it may look, is crucial. Having a bye week beforehand helps, especially after a physical game against LSU.
Auburn then ends its three-game home stand against on the road against Ole Miss, a team that has been extremely poor since the 2009 season. But the Rebels have had a good start to the season at 3-1 and have impressed, particularly on offense. Ole Miss gave Auburn a few problems last season defensively, so this one won't be a cakewalk. I still expect to win this game.
After the trip to Oxford, Auburn pays a visit to Vanderbilt for a game that, as of now, doesn't look like as easy as it has in the past. Vanderbilt isn't great, but the Commodores aren't terrible (despite their own early-season woes). It's also a road game, so that will make things a whole lot trickier -- Auburn hasn't won a road game since beating South Carolina in 2011.
Auburn concludes October with a couple of home games against Aggies -- Texas A&M and New Mexico State. No offense to State, but that game that ends the month should be a gimme. The Texas A&M-style Aggies are hard to judge right now, just because of the sheer fact that they've won two games over SMU and South Carolina State and lost to a ranked Florida team. Auburn gets this one at home, and that will help the Tigers' cause. This team doesn't lack much offensively, so being able to put out a good defensive performance should go a long way to winning this football game. Moving the ball on offense might not be easy. Texas A&M has pretty good on defense, giving up a solid 12.3 points per game.
From the looks of things, it's going to be hard to go into the Iron Bowl at 8-3, but depending on offensive improvement, it is possible. Auburn made a big step forward defensively against LSU, and playing like that consistently week in and week out would only help this team. Still, it will be tough to beat Georgia and Alabama, which is why October is outlined as the key part of the season. All of the games are winnable, and three of the five come at home. The aim right now should be to become bowl-eligible, and Auburn will need to win at least three of these to do so.
To make it happen, the offense will have to improve. In addition, Auburn has struggled some against teams that run spread offenses, and the opponents scheduled over the next month fit that mold. That is another challenge that the defense will have to overcome.
The start has been rocky, but it can be nullified with a strong finish and could set up some good things next year if a few things go our way. I saw a lot of good and bad things against LSU, but consistency is the key. Winning these games will do wonders for a team that's still trying to find its identity, and it may decide which bowl game chooses Auburn -- if the Tigers get into one at all.