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Open season on Auburn?

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Open season on Auburn?

Tigers plan to put this week's focus on preparation, not recent struggles in season-opening games

Monday, August 28, 2006


Sports Reporter

AUBURN -- Tommy Tuberville doesn't think his 2003 team was overconfident. He doesn't think players' egos became inflated because of preseason hype. And he certainly doesn't think anyone at Auburn overlooked Southern California.

"We knew what we were getting into in that game," the Auburn coach said.

What Auburn got into was a humbling 23-0 rout that dashed the optimistic projections of the preseason.

"It just didn't happen," Tuberville said. "It wasn't meant to be."

Three years later, Auburn still carries the stigma of that game, along with a reputation for struggling in big openers.

As the Tigers prepare for Saturday's season opener against Washington State, it's a reputation that players and coaches would like to put behind them.

"The word we've got this week is focus,"

Tuberville said. "We'll just focus on what we're supposed to do and how we're supposed to do it and try to be the best team we can be this early in the season."

Auburn and Washington State kick off at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Tigers are somewhat familiar with the Pac-10, losing openers against Southern California in 2002 and 2003. Auburn defeated lowly Louisiana-Monroe to open its undefeated season in 2004, then lost in last year's opener to Georgia Tech.

Even if they are aware of Auburn's track record, most players weren't around in 2002, and coaches have no interest in pounding pessimism into their heads.

"If you start talking too much about it, it becomes a mindset that can be negative," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "You don't want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy where all you bring up is how poorly we started. We don't want that to happen."

At No. 4, the Tigers enter this year with a higher ranking in The Associated Press poll than they had in 2003. But there seems less hype this year, and Tuberville said he hasn't noticed much discussion of the preseason rankings among his players.

"I've seen no indication that anybody's even thought about it," Tuberville said. "It's never been brought up. I had my Sunday meeting (with players) and I brought it up for the first time -- that there are expectations, and the only ones who control that is us.

"We'll just go play as good as we can play and won't worry about anybody else. That's about the only thing we really talked about."

Tuberville said some of the preseason hype in 2003 might have been fueled by the Sporting News picking the Tigers No. 1 nationally. No national publication has done the same in 2006.

"There was more buzz about that than anything," Tuberville said.

Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox didn't play in the losses to Southern Cal, but he struggled through last year's opener against Georgia Tech. He doesn't think Auburn overlooked anyone then, and he's convinced the Tigers won't do it now.

"Off the field, everybody is just focused on that first game," Cox said.

And senior linebacker Karibi Dede said the players are expecting a fight.

"From my standpoint, and from my experience, I know they're not going to fly from all the way out there in Washington and come down here to Jordan-Hare and not come out here to go to war," he said.

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