AUBURN, Ala. - The Auburn Tigers were basking in the preseason expectations and media attention.
National title contenders? They were surely playing the part in 2003 - until the season opened with back-to-back losses and the buzz turned ugly.
Three years later, the Tigers are again popular picks to win the Southeastern Conference title and perhaps emerge as dark-horse contenders on the national scene. If only they can avoid repeating that famous flop.
“Everybody says, ‘Auburn, they get ranked high and they don't do so well,'” tailback Kenny Irons said. “We've got to prove a lot of people wrong.”
The Tigers, who went 8-5 after opening at No. 6 that season, have plenty of company around the SEC in that regard.
Chris Leak wants to prove he's a championship-caliber quarterback at Florida, and the Gators are eager to show they don't need Steve Spurrier to win a title.
“Your expectations if you're a Gator are to compete for an SEC and national title every year,” said Leak, who has fallen short by that standard despite an impressive career.
LSU and Georgia, meanwhile, are trying to overcome significant losses and answer a different type of quarterback question: Who's the starter?
LSU's JaMarcus Russell is 14-2 as a starter, a track record that might help him fight off Matt Flynn and redshirt freshman Ryan Perrilloux. A little competition, coach Les Miles figures, is a good thing.
“I promise you the competition at that position will kind of necessitate great play,” Miles said.
At Georgia, top prospect Matthew Stafford and senior Joe Tereshinski lead what coach Mark Richt says is a four-man race for the defending SEC champs.
The Bulldogs aren't sweating the loss of quarterback D.J. Shockley and other talented players. They certainly sound like a team that's won two of the last four SEC titles.
“We just reload instead of rebuilding,” center Nick Jones said.
To defensive end Quentin Moses, Richt's program is a revolving door of talent.
“There's always somebody waiting on their turn,” Moses said.
And Tennessee? Well, contrary to Miles' sentiment, last season proved too much quarterback competition isn't always a good thing. The Volunteers missed a bowl game for the first time since 1988 while rotating current No. 1 Erik Ainge and senior Rick Clausen.
Coach Phillip Fulmer brushes off last season as “an aberration.”
“It's not like we're all of a sudden void of talent,” Fulmer said.
Neither is Auburn, though.