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Despite loss of much talent to NFL, Auburn still setting goals high

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
HOOVER – Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville was in good spirits Thursday afternoon at the SEC Media Days in Hoover. Going undefeated and winning a BCS Bowl will do that to a coach.
"It's been phenomenal," Tuberville said of his team's undefeated season. "It's obviously opened a lot of doors for the program. The media attention that we got, positive and negative, the last two years has put us out in front of a lot of the TV screens and newspapers across the country that normally we wouldn't have been on."
That Auburn team in 2004 went 13-0, including a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers' senior class was rewarded for that exceptional season, as Auburn saw three of its players drafted in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, including both starting running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown.
Yet the Tigers were also slighted, ultimately becoming the odd man out in the BCS Standings as undefeated USC and Oklahoma finished the season No. 1 and No. 2 and met in the championship game.
That controversy helped result in the Associated Press dropping out of the BCS formula, but Tuberville is not convinced that simply removing the poll will be a solution to the problem.
"Nothing has been done to solve the problem," he said. "We have used a Band-Aid. You can have all the voting polls you want, but popular vote is no way to determine a national champion. You need to play it out on the field. We're smart enough to where I think we can figure out a way to keep our bowl system, to have a true national champion."
Tuberville and his Tigers are ready to defend their SEC title, and still hold out hopes of a return to the BCS Championship Series with a team that Tuberville is calling his most talented ever.
That is high praise for an Auburn team that had four first-round draft picks in the NFL.
"We have had good recruiting years," Tuberville said explaining his confidence about this year's Tigers.
"With Carnell and Ronnie coming back (last season) they gave us an opportunity for the younger guys to grow up another year and not have to be thrown into the fire so to speak.
"We have a lot of quickness, especially on defense, and a lot of weapons at all positions. We have to put them in the right spot and play together as a team."
Among those returning for Auburn is tackle Marcus McNeil, who was considered by some to be a sure-fire high draft pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. McNeil decided instead to return to Auburn for his senior season, and will anchor an offensive line that loses two starters from 2004.
"This is the third year in a row that our seniors have come back," Tuberville said. "I think they learn from each other and Marcus is the type of guy who loves football and he knows that he's a good player.
"He passed up a lot of money and him coming back is going to be fun to watch – the sky is the limit for him."
Also returning is running back Tre Smith, who had shoulder surgery in 2004 and an appendectomy in mid-July. He is expected to be healthy at the start of the season, and Tuberville feels the junior will step in and be more than a capable replacement for Brown and Williams.
Tuberville is equally confident that sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox will be productive in replacing Jason Campbell, who was a first-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins.
"I think Brandon Cox is going to be a heck of a college quarterback," Tuberville said. "He's going to make a name for himself. He has the luxury of having good people around him and that's one thing that Jason Campbell did not have when he started."
Senior wide receivers Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obamanu and junior Courtney Taylor will be targets for the young Cox.
Overall, Tuberville is excited about Auburn's prospects for the upcoming season, a year that includes road games against LSU and Georgia and Auburn hosting the annual Iron Bowl against rival Alabama.
"We open up with a very tough team in Georgia Tech," Tuberville said. "We will find out pretty quickly if we can hold up our end of the bargain. We hope to play well enough to keep our (winning) streak of 15 games in a row going and look forward to a good year."