AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn is back in the top-10 for the first time in over two years.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0 SEC), who host Louisiana-Monroe this weekend, jumped seven spots in the Associated Press poll, going from 17th to 10th after beating South Carolina 35-27 Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
They haven’t been ranked that high since being No. 10 in the Sept. 14 poll in 2008. That was just before a loss to LSU began the team’s freefall that ended with Tommy Tuberville’s resignation.
Auburn is the third-highest ranked SEC team in the AP poll, behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Florida.
The Tigers got a slight boost in the USA Today coaches’ poll, going form 14th to 11th. Three SEC teams are ahead of them in that poll — No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Florida and No. 10 LSU.
Mario Fannin didn’t get another carry after fumbling in the first quarter Saturday, giving way to freshman Mike Dyer, who ran 23 times for a career-best 100 yards.
Head coach Gene Chizik said it didn’t mean anything.
“Don’t read anything into it at all,” Chizik said. “We just went with offensively what was working. And Michael was running the ball inside for some tough yards. Onterio (McCalebb) was doing what he needed to do on the perimeter.
“As the games unfold, we’ve got to kind of see who’s in rhythm and who’s really executing the offense the best. And those are the guys we’re going to go with.”
Fannin, the team’s designated No. 1 back for the entire offseason, has only nine carries for 25 yards this year. He’s fumbled twice.
Fannin sat out the Clemson game with a left shoulder injury and appeared to be holding that shoulder after the hit that caused his fumble against South Carolina.
“I don’t think that would be an excuse, no,” Chizik said. “He’s got to hold onto the ball.”
Fannin, who came back into the game and blocked well, wasn’t the only Auburn running back to fumble Saturday. Dyer lost one and Eric Smith lost his grip on a ball that rolled out of bounds.
“Ball security issues are all over the place with us right now,” Chizik said.
Freshman safety Demetruce McNeal made his mark on special teams against South Carolina, making four solo tackles on kickoffs.
He’s tied with freshman defensive end Craig Sanders for the team lead with five.
“We keep preaching to those guys how much of an impact they’re having on our football team,” Chizik said. “Because now all of our starting linebackers don’t have to cover kickoffs or necessarily cover every punt.”
For now, it appears that will be McNeal’s only role. Not many reps are available at a safety position featuring senior starters Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage, an experienced junior in Mike McNeil and an emerging walk-on in Ikeem Means.
“We’re trying to wean him in to some safety stuff,” Chizik said. “But we’ll play that by ear as the season progresses.”
Coming to Auburn
Offensive lineman signee Shon Coleman, who has battled leukemia since the spring, told several recruiting websites that he plans to enroll at Auburn in January.
Coleman, a five-star signee from Olive Branch, Miss., did not enroll this fall but was declared cancer-free after undergoing chemotherapy. He’s attended each of the Tigers’ last two games.
Coleman’s football-playing future remains uncertain. He’ll need to consult with doctors before stepping back on the field.
“I can’t make that call,” Chizik said last week. “Whether he’s playing or not, I don’t know, but I expect him to be at Auburn.”