Schedule analysis: Auburn

Today, we take a closer look at defending national champion Auburn’s 2011 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: Utah State (4-8)

Sept. 17: at Clemson (6-7)

Sept. 24: Florida Atlantic (4-8)

Nov. 19: Samford (4-7)

SEC home games

Sept. 10: Mississippi State

Oct. 15: Florida

Oct. 29: Ole Miss

Nov. 26: Alabama

SEC road games

Oct. 1: at South Carolina

Oct. 8: at Arkansas

Oct. 22: at LSU

Nov. 12: at Georgia

Gut-check time: There will be a lot of gut checks in 2011, especially with so many new players moving into key roles on the Plains. And while Mississippi State might not be the best team Auburn will face next season, that game will go a long way toward shaping the Tigers’ season. It’s the second week of the season, the SEC opener for both clubs and will be played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. With so many tough road games looming, the last thing the Tigers can afford to do is lose one at home so early in the season. This should also be Mississippi State’s best team under Dan Mullen, and you know with all that transpired with the Cam Newton allegations a year ago, both teams will be out for blood.

Trap game: You can bet Clemson has had the Sept. 17 rematch with Auburn circled ever since blowing a 17-3 halftime lead last season and losing in overtime. What’s more, Death Valley (the Clemson version) is an extremely tough place to play.

Snoozer: Something says the Samford tilt on Nov. 19 won’t send the state into a frenzy the week before the big Iron Bowl matchup to close the regular season.

Telltale stretch: Auburn fans might want to hide their eyes when they look at the October portion of the schedule. Back-to-back road games against South Carolina and Arkansas are followed by a home date with Florida and then another trip to LSU to end the month.

Final analysis: The schedule a year ago was tailor-made for a national championship run. Five of the first seven games were at home, and one of the road games was against Kentucky. In 2011, it flips the other way. Four of the first eight games are on the road in what is arguably the toughest schedule in the league. Auburn swaps Kentucky for Florida, has to play at Clemson the third week and faces a four-week gauntlet in October that includes road games at South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU. There’s also another road game at Georgia two weeks before Alabama visits Jordan-Hare Stadium in the regular-season finale. In short, if the Tigers don’t hold serve at home that second week against Mississippi State, they could be in for a long season.