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Time to Reassess Auburn's Chances

It's time we admit it. I admit it. Most of us were wrong about this Auburn football team. Five weeks ago, most fans would have been hard pressed to come up with seven wins on this season's schedule. Personally, I found only six victories out of the bunch - and that was looking hard. Of course, that was back when Gene Chizik couldn't coach and Ole Miss only had to show up to book its ticket to Atlanta in December.

What a difference a month makes. Who would have guessed back in August that Auburn fans would be concerned about polls and whether or not Georgia hung on against LSU?

In full disclosure I must admit I couldn't pull for Georgia over LSU Saturday afternoon.

I know - we needed LSU to lose. I had all intentions of pulling for the Dawgs; but once the sight of that obnoxious Georgia crowd became clear on my television set, I felt this intense hatred in my heart and I screamed with delight as Mark Richt had a sure thing snatched from his smirking face.

Old habits die hard.

So here we sit. Saturday night's win in Knoxville was not a thing of beauty. This is still not a great Auburn football team. It's bordering on being a great offensive football team. It likely faced the best defense it will see until after Thanksgiving.

In the end, Auburn will be judged by how well Ted Roof's defense improves in the coming weeks. Outside of the Tennessee touchdown drive at the end of the first half, this unit made strides. The veterans made plays when the game was drawing close.

No one will confuse the Tennessee offense with LSU, Georgia or Alabama. For that matter, they probably don't stack up to Louisiana Tech or Mississippi State. Let's face it, the Volunteer offense looks a lot like last year. But you can't sell short the effort this young group made in front of 102,000 fans, the most any of these players has ever played in front of on a Saturday.

This week brings an entirely new set of tests.  Arkansas is the mirror opposite of Tennessee. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino knows how to run an offense. Auburn will face the best quarterback it has seen all year in Ryan Mallett. The Razorbacks Achilles heel is its defense. When the over/under is set by Las Vegas later this morning, its likely to be sky high. Saturday morning in Fayetteville should be a shootout.

Arkansas put up 47 points in an easy win over Texas A&M in Dallas and has scored more than 40 points in three of its four contest. The Razorbacks entered Saturday's game with the nation's top offense, averaging 574 yards a game. They rank fourth nationally in scoring offense (45 points per game) and sixth in passing, averaging 330 yards through the air.

While it's dangerous for a team to look ahead, it's perfectly OK for fans. This week's game is certainly winnable, maybe even expected now. Clearing that hurdle likely means Auburn heads to Baton Rouge in two weeks ranked in the top 10 at 7-0. A win there and the Tigers start getting into rarified air. An SEC West Championship starts becoming a possibility. Watching Alabama play so far, you have to give Auburn a fighting chance in late November should things continue to progress.

But that's getting way ahead of the curve.  Right now, it's just great basking in the improbable run of the first five weeks. Expectations are great, but it's sure nice with the pressure off. Chizik has brought the fun back to Auburn. And it has been a long time coming.

"I love watching these guys come in from a win," Chizik said Saturday night. "That was our first win and our first SEC road win. At a place like this where no one (Auburn players) has ever played. It was just a great way to come in here and find different ways to win the game and it was awesome to see our kids' faces after the win."

Football sure is fun when you are winning. I almost forgot.