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Separate the Expectations from the Excitement

Gene Chizik is hoping the Tigers can return to the top in 2012.
Gene Chizik is hoping the Tigers can return to the top in 2012.

First thing's first, let's address where we are in the offseason. We are past the offseason; we are in the full blown preseason stage of "OMG IT'S ALMOST HERE CAN'T WAIT NATIONAL TITLE RUN!" Slow down there, cowboy, Auburn will be better in 2012 but a national title is a stretch. Do the Tigers have the talent to make a run? Yes. But the majority of that talent is still very green and both sides of the ball are adjusting to new coordinators. Auburn is more talented across the board now than it has been in some time, and if it all gels quickly, Gene Chizik's team could make a big run. September will tell us almost all we need to know about the 2012 Tigers, as Auburn could go into October anywhere from 4-0 to 1-3. Whatever the team does in the first month will set the tone for the rest of the season.

Possibly the biggest game in the Chizik era, outside of a certain game a couple of Januarys ago in Glendale, could be Auburn's opener against Clemson. Why? Because if the Tigers come out and beat the other Tigers, a top 15 team, on the national stage, it will be a launching point for the rest of the season. It wouldn't be a HUGE upset, but it would be an upset nonetheless, and the Chizik's squad would leave Atlanta with its confidence level through the roof. After getting through the Clemson game, Auburn travels to Mississippi State for an 11 am kick. Unless you've been living under a rock since the beginning of the Tuberville era, you know Auburn's performances in breakfast games have usually been somewhere between "Oh no" and "/facepalm". It also seems that no matter how good Auburn is and how bad Mississippi State is, the Bulldogs play Auburn well. Remember what went down in Starkville in 2010? Two tough games already and we haven't even hit our second bottle of bourbon for the season yet...well, maybe we have, but you get the point.

Once the tough two-game stretch to start the season is out of the way, Auburn gets its first game inside the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium to take on Louisiana-Monroe, which should be a chance for the Tigers to catch their breath, rest up and prepare for a Week 4 game that rarely lacks excitement. -- forget 2011; that was TURRIBLE. Auburn welcomes the Bengal Tigers of LSU to the Plains, and depending on how both teams navigate their first three games, the matchup could play a big part in deciding the SEC West, as is the norm when Auburn and LSU square off. Does Auburn have a chance to beat LSU? Of course it does. Auburn has been almost unbeatable home over the past two years, with the only loss coming to Alabama in last year's Iron Bowl. Aside from Auburn's loss in 2008, the home team has won every game since 2000 when the two Tigers have gotten together.

So after a rough first month, Auburn is either a serious contender, a team looking at another New Year's Day bowl bid, or a lame duck fighting to make it to Shreveport. Is it realistic to think the Tigers can go undefeated in September? Not really. Auburn has the talent to do it, but everything has to come together quickly, and it all starts in Atlanta. If the Tigers beat Clemson in the Dome, they'll go into Mississippi State knowing they can beat a good team on the road. And if we're being honest, Auburn will be, without a doubt, the more talented team when it faces the Bulldogs in Week 2. Reasonable expectations would put Auburn at 3-1 at the end of September. Go low, and 2-2 is the likely record -- 1-3 would be a disaster. If the Tigers get to 4-0, Auburn is staring at five out of it's last eight games at home, and October sets up nicely. Auburn gets an off week following the LSU game and then hosts Arkansas on Oct. 6, followed by road trips to Ole Miss and Vandy. Then, it's back to the Plains on Oct. 27 to host Texas A&M. Being realistic, Auburn is looking at 3-1 in October, but 4-0 isn't crazy. The Tigers open November with New Mexico State, followed by home games against Georgia and Alabama State and an Iron Bowl date in Tuscaloosa. Auburn has a good shot of winning all three November games leading up to Alabama. With that being said, a 4-0 or 3-1 September -- depending on which team the loss is against -- and Auburn could staring at a showdown with Alabama for the SEC West even ... yea, you just got all giggity inside. It's easy to convince yourself that everything will fall into place, but take it easy. We're still a week away from the first game. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Auburn fans have every reason in the world to be excited about the 2012 season, the Tigers are loaded with talent, have great coaching and are back to the hard-nosed Auburn football on both sides of the ball we all grew up loving. And hey, we have a 6-foot, 260-pound mammoth of a man at fullback. What's not to be excited about? This will be the best coached defense of the Chizik era and the most talented -- young, but talented. Corey Lemonier will be back, and the defensive line will go seven to eight deep. The offense returns All-SEC performers Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen and will return much more experience on the offensive line. Auburn returns proven talent at almost every position in 2012. Getting the younger players to provide depth behind that talent will be key. The team must rally around Kiehl Frazier and Frazier must lead his teammates.

So get excited and talk some trash. A little trash-talk makes the world a better place. Just remember, separate expectations from excitement, and take the season one game at a time. See y'all in Atlanta. War Damn Eagle!

Note: West Virginia scored three more times during the writing of this post. #Ne7erF0rget