If youth and inexperience weren't going to demoralize the 2011 Auburn Tigers, their October schedule certainly would.
That was a popular preseason prognostication regarding college football's reigning national champions, but the gloom and doom never transpired. Auburn may not resemble last year's 14-0 version, but Gene Chizik's Tigers enter this week's game at Georgia with a 6-3 record and ranked 20th in the BCS standings.
"We've lost three games on the road to the No. 1, the number whatever and the number whatever team," Chizik said. "I don't know what they are, but they are all in the top 10. That's not an excuse, because we go into those games expecting to win them, but we've come a long way."
And Chizik admits there is still a long way to go for a team that had the fewest number of returning starters nationally.
Auburn is ranked 89th in total offense (354.2 yards per game) and an abysmal 108th in passing offense (163.1). No one knew for sure what the Tigers would look like a year after Cam Newton, and they have wound up among the nine league teams to switch quarterbacks as the result of performance, injuries or suspensions.
Junior Barrett Trotter won the job in August and opened with 17-of-23 and 16-of-23 passing performances in wins over Utah State and Mississippi State. His accuracy fell off sharply by the middle of October, however, as he went 6-of-19 in a loss at Arkansas and was 2-of-8 against Florida before being replaced by sophomore Clint Moseley.
Moseley, a 6-foot-3, 224-pound sophomore from Leroy, Ala., went 4-for-7 against the Gators and helped lead the Tigers to a 17-6 win. He made his first start at LSU on Oct. 22, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a 45-10 loss, but regrouped to go 12-for-15 for 160 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-23 win over Ole Miss.
"That first start was so surreal," Moseley said. "When you play the No. 1 team on the road, there are so many factors that made it surreal, and I knew I couldn't have faced a better defense.
"Ole Miss felt like a high school game as far as my confidence and running the offense and not having any doubts."
In the win over Florida, Auburn not only used Moseley and Trotter at quarterback but freshman Kiehl Frazier and sophomore tailback Michael Dyer. The quarterback instability has been a far cry from last year, when Newton averaged 105 rushing and 204 passing yards a game, and it has challenged third-year offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who is the highest-paid assistant in college athletics at $1.3 million.
"He's doing all the things that he can do to give us a spark and be more productive," Chizik said. "We haven't been looking at wholesale changes but rather what can we do and do well. In two and a half years, we really haven't had to do a whole lot of that, but that's just where we're at."
Dyer was the top returning component from last season's offense and has not disappointed, rushing for 989 yards in nine games and for 5.32 yards per carry. He is coming off a career-best 177 yards in the rout of the Rebels.
The Tigers approached October following a 38-24 loss at Clemson and a less-than-dazzling 30-14 win over lowly Florida Atlantic, but they pulled an immediate upset with a 16-13 win at South Carolina. There had been talk of an 0-5 month if South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU could wear down the Tigers before they got to Ole Miss, but Auburn went 3-2 instead.
Auburn ranks 84th nationally in rushing defense after finishing ninth a year ago, so the growing pains aren't confined to the offense, but the Tigers are bowl-eligible and looking for more.
"The great thing about our team up to this point is that we haven't lost twice in a row," Chizik said. "We have not let one loss beat us twice, and for a young football team, I think that speaks highly of them."
Georgia senior center Ben Jones was tabbed SEC offensive lineman of the week after grading out at 85 percent with five intimidation blocks in two quarters of play during Saturday's 63-16 win over New Mexico State. ... Georgia's home game Nov. 19 against Kentucky will be shown on the SEC Network with a 12:21 kickoff.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.