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Saturday, January 15, 2011
Auburn heading for Texas-like fall?

By Jon Stewart

The glow of Auburn's second national championship won’t come off for awhile, but next season will come sooner than expected. What will that season look like? If we follow the template of Texas from this past season, it’s not a pretty picture.

In 2009, Texas reached the BCS National Championship Game for the second time in five seasons, losing to Alabama 37-21 in Pasadena, but very few thought it would stall the Texas juggernaut. After all, the Horns had won nine or more games in each of the 12 seasons Mack Brown had been in Austin.

Texas was ranked in the preseason top five in each of the major polls in 2010, fifth in The Associated Press, fourth in the USA Today Coaches, and all seemed to be in order when Texas won its first three games.

Then the roof fell in, as the Longhorns lost seven of their last nine, including four in a row, their longest losing streak since 1997. They also failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 1997, when they went 4-7, and John Mackovic was fired as head coach and replaced by Brown.

What many prognosticators failed to take into account was the fact that Texas lost its four-year starting quarterback in Colt McCoy, who won an NCAA-record 45 games and was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, and also lost three of its starting offensive linemen and three of four starting defensive linemen.

Auburn will head into a similar situation next season. The Tigers, who captured their first national championship since 1957 this season, entered the week knowing it was losing at least 12 of its 22 offensive and defensive starters from that game.

They and their fans waited anxiously to hear whether or not the two biggest stars of the team, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton and Lombardi Award-winning defensive tackle Nick Fairley, were bypassing their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.

Thursday, Newton announced he was going pro. Fairley, the defensive MVP of the BCS title game, followed suit Friday.

Now Auburn fans know they will be without 14 starters from that BCS title game and in crucial positions. Four of the Tigers’ starting offensive linemen and three of their four starting defensive linemen are gone along with the starting quarterback.

Auburn’s 2011 schedule isn’t forgiving either. The Tigers face the usual grueling SEC slate, including visits by Mississippi State, which is coming off its first bowl win since 2007, and rival Alabama which would love to ease the memories of a blown 24-0 lead in a 28-27 loss in the Iron Bowl in November.

They’ll also take a non-conference road trip to Clemson, which will look to avenge a 27-24 overtime loss in September, when it allowed a 17-0 second-quarter lead to evaporate.

The real key to the season will come in October when Auburn goes to South Carolina and Arkansas, hosts Florida and visits LSU in a four-week gauntlet.

So are the Tigers headed for a Texas-like collapse in 2011? With all of those factors working against them, don’t be surprised if the answer is yes.