AUBURN GAMEDAY: Defending BCS champs eager to prove doubters wrong

Auburn isn’t on anybody’s short list of national title contenders this season.

In fact, you might not find very many long lists with the Tigers’ name on them either.

Auburn, ranked No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll and No. 23 in the Associated Press preseason rankings, is the least heralded national champion heading into an encore since Minnesota entered the 1961 season unranked after winning the AP and UPI titles in 1960.

“Everybody’s dogging us. Everybody’s, like, putting us down,” sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier said. “We’ve just got to go out there and just show them that we mean business.”

The worst follow-up for a BCS champion was LSU’s 2008 campaign, in which it finished 8-5 after besting Ohio State for its second title in five seasons.

A number of prognosticators are saying this young Auburn team — tasked with replacing 24 scholarship seniors, 18 starters and nearly 40 players who were on the roster for the BCS title game but are no longer part of the team — will be lucky to reach those heights.

The pressure for this year’s Tigers centers not so much on a quest to become the first BCS champion to repeat. It’s about proving they still belong in the conversation.

“We feel a little disrespected that coming off a national championship, they’re basically telling us that we’re not talented enough to play football,” junior defensive end Dee Ford said. “They’re forgetting the fact that we are football players.

“Yeah, they’re sleeping on us. So we’re just going to take that as motivation.”

Head coach Gene Chizik, in his typical insular way, says he doesn’t pay any attention to outside perception and advises his team to do likewise.

Players and coaches have more than enough to focus on inside the walls of the athletic complex, Chizik said.

“I’m not really aware of what is swirling around out there, whether they think we’re going to be 14-0 again or 0-14,” Chizik said. “I’m not really in tune with that.”

Chizik also has some fairly select company to live up to this year.

Second-year head coaches have won four of the 12 BCS titles: Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Chizik.

Stoops, Tressel and Meyer averaged a 10-3 season after their title runs.

Still, Chizik insists the only pressure the team feels is from expectations it places upon itself, not the weight of history or the words of the experts.

Again, Chizik doesn’t really pay attention to all that.

“We don’t talk about expectations in terms of what everybody else’s expectation is,” Chizik said. “We only talk about expectations in terms of what ours are. So that is really kind of non-applicable to us in a way.”

But with the crystal football prominently on display at the athletic complex, with gigantic pictures of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley plastered on the Jordan-Hare Stadium façade, with the memories of players like Newton and Fairley roaming the field still fresh in fans’ minds, there appears to be more at stake this season than in Chizik’s first two years at the helm.

Auburn is no longer merely the defending Outback Bowl champion. The title the Tigers hold now is a bit more prestigious.

Junior quarterback Barrett Trotter said the pressure’s always there when you play for Auburn, whether you’re a national champion or struggling to make a bowl game.

“The bar is set as high as it can be every year for Auburn,” Trotter said. “Every time we step into that stadium, we expect to win. It doesn’t matter if we won however many games last year or lost however many last year.

“That’s not what motivates us. Being Auburn and winning games is what motivates us.”

Now, for a follow-up …
BCS national champions have averaged 10.4 wins in the season after their titles, ranging from Florida’s 13-1 campaign in 2009 to LSU’s 8-5 record the year before.

1999 – Tennessee (9-3)

2000 – Florida State (11-2)

2001 – Oklahoma (11-2)

2002 – Miami (12-1)

2003 – Ohio State (11-2)

2004 – LSU (9-3)

2005 – USC (12-1)

2006 – Texas (10-3)

2007 – Florida (9-4)

2008 – LSU (8-5)

2009 – Florida (13-1)

2010 – Alabama (10-3)

2011 – Auburn (?)

And the opening act …
All 12 previous BCS national champions have won their first games in the season following the title, by an average score of 45-12.

1999 – Tennessee 42, Wyoming 17

2000 – Florida State 29, BYU 3

2001 – Oklahoma 41, North Carolina 27

2002 – Miami 63, Florida A&M 17

2003 – Ohio State 28, Washington 9

2004 – LSU 22, Oregon State 21

2005 – USC 63, Hawaii 17

2006 – Texas 56, North Texas 7

2007 – Florida 49, Western Kentucky 3

2008 – LSU 41, Appalachian State 13

2009 – Florida 62, Charleston Southern 3

2010 – Alabama 48, San Jose State 3

2011 – Utah State at Auburn

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