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Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2011

Auburn football: Tigers looking to shock 'the world'

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Most football prognosticators have low expectations for the Auburn football team this year.

The players hear it. And they don’t care.

Despite losing 31 lettermen and 16 starters from last year’s national championship team, the Tigers aren’t expecting to fall off the map.

And yes, they hear what people are saying.

“Everybody has TVs on our football team,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said Tuesday, when Auburn’s players reported for practice. “For us, it’s about going out there and getting better every day and shocking the world. I feel like we have a bunch of guys that are ready to compete and do such things.”

Outsiders are setting the bar low for Auburn this year. Several Las Vegas oddsmakers have the over-under on Auburn’s win total at six, although no defending national champion has won fewer than eight games in the BCS era.

The Tigers were picked by the media to finish fifth in the SEC West during media days last month, behind Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

No matter, Auburn’s players said. They were picked third last year.

“It’s kind of similar to last year,” cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “But now, no Cam Newton, no Nick Fairley. Now they’re like, ‘They really don’t have a chance.’ You just take that, put it into what you eat in the morning. I already put it into my breakfast, lunch and dinner. It just fires me up.”

Even once last season began, many players thought the Tigers didn’t get the recognition they deserved until they were 9-0. They think it’s typical of the way Auburn is perceived on a yearly basis.

“Every year we go into it and we’re expected to fail and not to get to where we want,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “So we kind of embrace the role of playing with a chip on our shoulder.”

Most predictions are based on the Tigers’ youth. In the BCS era, the previous year’s champion has returned 13 starters on average. Auburn returns only six, three on each side of the ball.

That inexperience could be pronounced in the SEC, which has been known to swallow up inexperienced teams.

Eguae doesn’t see it that way.

“Some people, when you’re looking at preseason expectations, preseason awards, preseason watch lists, it’s based on what you’ve done before,” he said. “If somebody hasn’t seen you before, it’s a sense of, youthfulness is lack of talent. But we’re not setting up youthfulness as a lack of talent, we’re setting up youthfulness as guys that are ready to compete, ready to go out there and work and win games on Saturday.”

“We had a lot of guys who were helping us out on special teams that aren’t getting the credit that they deserve,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Special teams is just as important as offense and defense and if you can win two out of three, you’re going to win the game. Having all those young guys get an opportunity to play last year is a big gain going into this year.”

The Tigers aren’t getting into the business of making bold predictions. But they’re not backing away from the competition this season simply because they’re rebuilding in some spots.

“It just makes it a lot sweeter when you go out there and beat a team you’re not supposed to beat,” Bell said. “That’s what we want to work for.

“We’re not saying we’re going to run the table, go out there and beat everybody, we’re not saying that. We’re going to be the best team we can be.”

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