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Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville signs autographs for fans during SEC football media days Wednesday in Hoover.
AP photo by Robb Carr
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville signs autographs for fans during SEC football media days Wednesday in Hoover.

The forgotten Tigers
Not favored to win and shuffled into the background by Alabama's hiring of Saban,
Auburn doesn't seem to mind underdog role

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2460

HOOVER — Tommy Tuberville readily admits it.

As the Auburn head coach sits in room 325 of the Wynfrey Hotel, he acknowledges that his upcoming team is blue collar, inexperienced and, well, doesn't turn many heads — and he likes it.

"I like our situation. It's always good to be underneath the radar," Tuberville said before his session with reporters at SEC media days Wednesday.

"We're not going to be a team of all-stars."

Not only will Auburn lack the all-star athletes it's had in the past, but the offense will be extremely young and inexperienced as a whole. Losing four starting linemen, the top running back and the leading wide receiver will do that to you.

But in the past, Auburn and Tuberville have proved that when they are expected to do little, they usually do plenty.

After Auburn's five-loss campaign of 2003, the Tigers were not highly touted coming into the 2004 season. They ended that year with a Sugar Bowl victory and a 13-0 record.

It's almost like they relish the underdog role. And with new Alabama coach Nick Saban stealing the spotlight in the state for the last six months, the Tigers are in a place they enjoy: being forgotten.

"Every time I come home (to Birmingham) and turn on the radio, that's all they're talking about ever since the hire (of Saban)," Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox said.

"Auburn hasn't really been in the news."

Said Tuberville of the lack of coverage: "It's been kind of nice."

LSU is picked to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division by most prognosticators, with Auburn finishing in the No. 2 or 3 slot.

Some even have the Tigers finishing No. 4 behind LSU, Alabama and Arkansas.

Asked how his team is going to get to Atlanta for the SEC title game, Tuberville supplied a quick response: "You've got to go through LSU."

The clash between Tigers is set for Oct. 10. But first, two opening non-conference games against Kansas State and South Florida await.

And LSU isn't the only worry on the Tigers' schedule. Auburn's inexperienced offense will also visit the venues of defending national champion Florida, Georgia and 2006 SEC West champ Arkansas. The Tigers don't get a Saturday off until the 12th week of the season.

But once again, it's no skin off Auburn's back. The Tigers look forward to entering raucous away venues and leaving with a win. They've done it better than any school over the last three years, holding an 11-1 SEC road record.

"Never will you see a fan come out and run a toss sweep to left or a toss sweep to the right," said senior defensive end Quentin Groves, Auburn's only first-team pick on the coaches' preseason all-SEC team.

"We're playing the 11 guys on the field. They are men who put their pants on just like we do, one leg at a time."

New names will be filling the starting roster, especially on offense. An example is walk-on wide receiver Rod Smith who will try to fill the void left by Courtney Taylor, who ranks fourth on the school's career receiving list. About four running backs will rotate in and out to replace departed Kenny Irons, who rushed for 2,186 yards in the past two years.

"When we put this team together, most people are going to look at it and say, 'I've never heard of that guy or that guy,' " Tuberville said. "But if we can get them all playing together this group can really be a good football team."

SEC football media days

The head coaches and two players from each of the 12 SoutheasternConference teams will attend the league’s annual publicity sessions this week in Hoover. A rundown of which schools speak with reporters when:

Who went Wednesday

n Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and South Carolina.

Thursday’s schedule

n 8:30-10:30 a.m.:Alabama and Vanderbilt

n 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Florida and Mississippi State

Friday’s schedule

n 8:30-10:30 a.m.: Georgia and Ole Miss

n 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: LSU and Tennessee

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