Schedule analysis: Auburn

A closer look at the schedule Gus Malzahn will face in his first season as Auburn’s coach:

Nonconference opponents (2012 records)

Aug. 31: Washington State (3-9)

Sept. 7: Arkansas State (10-3)

Oct. 12: Western Carolina (1-10)

Oct. 26: Florida Atlantic (3-9)

SEC home games

Sept. 14: Mississippi State

Oct. 5: Ole Miss

Nov. 16: Georgia

Nov. 30: Alabama

SEC road games

Sept. 21: at LSU

Oct. 19: at Texas A&M

Nov. 2: at Arkansas

Nov. 9: at Tennessee

Gut-check time: The Tigers face two extremely tough road trips the first half of the season. They play at LSU on Sept. 21, and travel to Texas A&M on Oct. 19. The trip to College Station is one that jumps out there for a lot of reasons. Not only do Johnny Football and the Aggies score points at a dizzying pace, but nobody on the Plains has forgotten the 63-21 beating Auburn suffered at the hands of Texas A&M last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Trap game: Auburn visits Tennessee the second week of November, which will be the Tigers’ second straight SEC road trip after visiting Arkansas the week before. The Vols are likely to be desperate for wins at that point in order to qualify for a bowl, and will see a home date with Auburn as a chance to beef up their resume.

Snoozer: Actually, there are a couple of snoozers in the month of October. Western Carolina, which managed just one win last season, comes to town on Oct. 12, and Florida Atlantic pays a visit two weeks later. Here’s betting there might be a few tickets floating around for both of those tilts.

Telltale stretch: There are never any guarantees, but the Tigers have a good chance to be 2-0 to open the season after home games with Washington State and Arkansas State. Then comes three SEC games in a span of four weeks that will shape Auburn’s season one way or the other. It’s a stretch that starts with Mississippi State at home on Sept. 14, a trip to LSU the next week, then a bye followed by a home date with Ole Miss on Oct. 5.

Final analysis: The first half of the Tigers’ schedule is far more accommodating than the last half. Five of their first six games are at home, which means they better protect their home turf. At worst, they need to be 4-2, and a 5-1 mark heading into the second half of the schedule could really open up some possibilities. The nonconference schedule is soft, so there’s really not much excuse for missing a bowl game in 2013. The early November road swing to Arkansas and Tennessee will be pivotal, especially with the Tigers closing the season against Georgia and Alabama at home. Auburn went just 3-9 last season, which was enough to get Gene Chizik fired two years removed from winning a national title. If the Tigers play closer to their talent level in 2013 under the new staff, they could carve out as many as eight wins and be one of the bounce-back teams of the year in college football.