Schedule analysis: Auburn

Examining Auburn's 2014 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Sept. 6: San Jose State (6-6)

Sept. 18: at Kansas State (8-5)

Sept. 27: Louisiana Tech (4-8)

Nov. 22: Samford (8-5)

SEC home games

Aug. 30: Arkansas

Oct. 4: LSU

Oct. 25: South Carolina

Nov. 8: Texas A&M

SEC road games

Oct. 11: at Mississippi State

Nov. 1: at Ole Miss

Nov. 15: at Georgia

Nov. 29: at Alabama

Gut-check time: As if the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry isn’t already physical enough, this year’s game comes on the tail end of what might be the toughest four-game stretch in college football. Auburn will face three SEC contenders in three weeks, and if the Tigers can find a way to get through that unscathed, they are rewarded with a trip to Athens to take on a gritty Georgia team. It’s going to take a special effort by the defense to try and slow down Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and the rest of the Dawgs’ backfield. And if that’s not enough, there will be a revenge factor for Georgia in the game. Don’t think they forgot what happened last year.

Trap game: There’s something about those Thursday night games on ESPN. Top 10 teams always seem to fall, and Auburn is hoping it’s not the next victim when it travels to Kansas State in September. Yes, the Wildcats lost to North Dakota State last season, but they also won six of their last seven games behind a resurgent Jake Waters at quarterback. He transferred in from junior college, and similar to Nick Marshall, he’s becoming more and more comfortable with the offense. Auburn better be prepared if it hopes to leave the Little Apple with a W.

Snoozer: When Samford comes to town in November, it will be a blast from the past for Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who coached at Samford in 2011, but outside of that, there’s not much to talk about. The headlines will be centered around the Iron Bowl the following week, and though the coaches won’t admit it, Auburn will be preparing a little early for Alabama.

Telltale stretch: The stretch of four straight SEC games beginning Oct. 25 is brutal, but we’ll know a lot more about this Auburn team at the beginning of the month when it hosts LSU and travels to Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. The Tigers’ lone loss in the regular season last year came to LSU, and the game with Mississippi State is always close. If Auburn can win those two games and gain some momentum, we learned last year that anything can happen.

Final analysis: Auburn’s schedule is tough. Seven of the Tigers’ eight conference games are against bowl teams, and that doesn’t include a trip to Kansas State early in the season. If Jay Jacobs was hoping for some type of reward for winning the SEC a year ago, he didn’t get it. Some argue that luck was on their side last season, and whether that’s true, they’re going to need it again this season if they want to duplicate the success of last season. It’s not because there’s a lack of talent, but rather because of the schedule. Auburn could go 11-1 and get back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game or it could just as easily go 8-4. The key will be how this team starts the season. They have a lot of confidence right now, and if they can win the first four, five, or even six games, that confidence will carry over into the rest of the season. Ultimately, the game that matters most is still the Iron Bowl, and if this year is anything like the last five, the winner will have an inside track to the College Football Playoff.