Today, we dissect Auburn's schedule as the Tigers enter the 2012 season with a new offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: vs. Clemson (10-4), in Atlanta
Sept. 15: Louisiana-Monroe (4-8)
Nov. 3: New Mexico State (4-9)
Nov. 17: Alabama A&M (8-4)
SEC home games
Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 6: Arkansas
Oct. 27: Texas A&M
Nov. 10: Georgia
SEC road games
Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: at Alabama
Gut-check time: LSU comes to the Plains on Sept. 22. The game will be played a month earlier than it was a year ago, and you can bet that nobody in Auburn's locker room will need to be reminded what happened the last time the two teams clashed. LSU embarrassed Auburn 45-10, triggering what was a humbling close to Auburn's regular season. The Tigers lost to LSU, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 101 points. If Auburn is going to make some noise in the Western Division race this coming season, it starts with LSU's visit that fourth Saturday in September. Arkansas visits two weeks later, and Auburn will need at least a split if the Tigers are going to be a factor come November.
Trap game: Vanderbilt proved last season that it's not going to be an easy out under James Franklin, especially at home. Auburn's Oct. 20 visit to Nashville comes on the heels of a trip to Ole Miss, and the second leg of a road swing in this league is always dicey.
Snoozer: The Nov. 3 game against New Mexico State is the second of four straight games at home for the Tigers, who have a couple of glorified scrimmages in November when you toss Alabama A&M into the mix two weeks later.
Telltale stretch: So much is riding on Auburn's start to the season -- Clemson in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and then Mississippi State in Starkville the second week of the season. If those two home games against LSU on Sept. 22 and then Arkansas on Oct. 6 are going to mean much, it's imperative that Auburn take care of its business right out of the gate.
Final analysis: Simply surviving the first part of the schedule will be as important as anything for the Tigers in 2012. There's going to be a lot that's new on both offense and defense, so that could be to their advantage in those first couple of games. Teams will be guessing a little bit in terms of what to prepare for. The good news for the Tigers is that four of their last five games are at home. Gene Chizik is 20-3 at home as Auburn's head coach. The bye week also comes at a good time and is sandwiched between the key home dates with LSU and Arkansas. Auburn won't be able to survive a start as shaky as the one last season, not facing Clemson in the opener in Atlanta and then traveling to Mississippi State the second week of the season. The Tigers will need to be on top of their game from the outset because LSU comes to town a few weeks later, not to mention Arkansas, all before the midway point of the season. Again, though, if Auburn can make it through those first two games, seven of its next nine contests will be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers won eight games last season, and bettering that mark in 2012 is going to be a real challenge when you consider that four of the teams they face -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU -- will start the season ranked somewhere in the top 15 nationally.