Auburn takes its turn at handling No. 1

Getting past the whole No. 1 curse is tough enough.

But Auburn has something else working against it this week when it travels to Ole Miss.

Putting three straight games together in this league has been a bear this season, especially when the first two were emotionally draining games over nationally ranked opponents and that third game just happens to be on the road.

That’s the challenge for the Tigers, who’ve taken down No. 6 LSU and No. 12 Arkansas each of the last two weeks at home.

“It’s only going to get tougher from here, and I don’t care who we play,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We know other people are going to turn their game up, which means we’ll turn our game up. We don’t have any choice.”

It’s been well-chronicled how short-lived the No. 1 spot nationally has been for teams this season.

In fact, No. 1 teams have gone down each of the last three weeks.

Alabama lost to South Carolina as the No. 1 team in both of the polls back on Oct. 9. That next week, Ohio State ascended to No. 1 in the polls and promptly fell to Wisconsin.

This past weekend, Oklahoma went into Columbia, Mo., after debuting at No. 1 in the first BCS standings and lost to Missouri.

Now, it’s Auburn’s turn to see if it can make that No. 1 label in the BCS standings stick.

“If we do our job, you can cut that statistic out,” said Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who in eight games as a starter has become perhaps the most recognizable player in college football.

He insists he has the maturity to handle the spotlight, and more importantly, this team has the maturity to handle it.

But, then, handling the spotlight is one thing. Handling the grind of this league is quite another.

It caught up to Alabama in that third game earlier this season. The Crimson Tide went on the road to beat nationally ranked Arkansas, then came back home to beat nationally ranked Florida, but faltered that next week at nationally ranked South Carolina.

LSU had escaped at home against Tennessee, played its best game of the season that next week on the road against nationally ranked Florida, and after breezing past McNeese State in a nonconference game, fell short at Auburn that next week.

Auburn is one of four teams in the SEC that will be playing its ninth straight game this weekend without a bye. The others are Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

Mindful of the wear and tear such a stretch can have on a team, the Auburn coaches scaled back a little bit in Tuesday’s practice. It’s normally the most physical practice of the week, but the Tigers worked in helmets and shoulder pads instead of their usual full pads.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t get after it, but nobody needs to tell Chizik or anybody on his staff how key this week is. If the Tigers can get past Ole Miss, they get a semi-break with Chattanooga coming to town the next week.

After that, it’s Georgia at home on Nov. 13, a bye week and then Alabama on Nov. 26.

The only thing on Chizik’s mind is getting better as a football team, and more specifically, becoming a more complete football team.

“We’re too sporadic,” Chizik said. “In some games, we play lights out and do some nice things. And some other games, we really struggle. So we've got to improve defensively. There’s no question about that.

“Special teams-wise, it’s been good. But last week, we lost the special teams battle to LSU, and for us to be a really good all-around, solid football team, it’s going to take field-position issues that we’ve got to win. Right now, we're not winning as many as we need to. Special teams are going be a big factor as we go forward.”

Not to mention handling the grind.