Sunday, September 23, 2007

And now it gets real

Brandon Cox is back. Auburn's offense is back. Auburn is back.

That's a lot to glean from Auburn's 55-20 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday. Let's call it Auburn's feel-good reprieve in a feel-bad start to the season, and let's get real.

Auburn is about the face a murderous stretch of five Southeastern Conference games: Florida on the road, Vanderbilt at home, Arkansas and LSU on the road and Ole Miss, the team that nearly upset Florida on Saturday, at home.

By the end of this five-week stretch, we'll all know whether Auburn was just a good young team that needed something good to happen, or whether New Mexico State merely brought an mirage from the desert.

To be sure, Cox looked like the Cox of old Saturday night ... accurate, efficient, in command. If not for a couple of drops, his passing numbers would have looked much better.

Auburn's running game looked like an Auburn running game with 229 yards and two 100-yard rushers.

Three freshman offensive linemen started, and Auburn still produced.

Auburn, one of the nation's worst teams in terms of turnover ratio last week, improved Saturday with six takeaways and one give.

Everything looked better, but that wasn't Florida or LSU on the other side of the ball.

Assuming Auburn sticks with what worked Saturday, this week will come down to the immobile Cox behind three true freshman lineman in The Swamp.

If Auburn comes out of that with a victory or at least a competitive showing, then just maybe this team can get something going.

Looking ahead, here are a couple of thoughts:

TREND: Auburn's talent center is in its lower classes. The Tigers started six freshmen against NMSU, including four true freshmen. Look for the coaching staff to continue to get its best talent on the field, though it looks like Cox will return as Auburn's starting quarterback at Florida.

SEEM FAMILIAR? This season seems to be tracking like the 2003 season. The Tigers lost their first two games, failing to score a touchdown against Southern Cal and Georgia Tech, then erupted for a 45-7 win at Vanderbilt. That was the beginning of five consecutive wins for a team that finished 8-5 and won a bowl. That was a team that made the least of its talent, however, and the current Auburn team doesn't have the same talent level in the upper classes.

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