Up next in our key stretch series is Auburn.
Key stretch: at South Carolina (Oct. 1), at Arkansas (Oct. 8), Florida (Oct. 15), at LSU (Oct. 22)
Breakdown: It's difficult to find a pocket of games anywhere in Auburn's 2011 schedule that wouldn't be considered a key stretch. The Tigers play four true road games in a six-game span from Sept. 17 through Oct. 22. Included are back-to-back games on the road against No. 12-ranked South Carolina and No. 15-ranked Arkansas. The Tigers come home that next week to face Florida and then go back on the road a week later to face No. 4-ranked LSU. That's three road games against top 15 teams in four weeks. The so-called breather in that stretch is a home game against No. 22-ranked Florida. No other team in the SEC this season has to face four straight teams ranked in the AP's preseason poll without the benefit of a bye and play more than one of those games away from home.
Prediction: Looking at it right now, most Auburn fans would probably take a 2-2 split and be happy. This is a team that should get better as the season progresses. The Tigers have talent. They just don't have a lot of experience. They get Arkansas a week after the Hogs have to play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, so the timing could be good for the Tigers to pull the upset. Maybe I'm selling the defending national champions short, but a 1-3 record with a win over Florida at home sounds about right. Once we get to October, I may change my mind. The landscape always looks different four or five games into the season, but all three of those road dates look like losses right now.