HOOVER, Ala. – The Southeastern Conference football media guide has as its cover for 2011 simply a big number 5, which symbolizes the five consecutive national championships the league has won, capped by Auburn’s undefeated run last year.

One-on-One: Gene Chizik
One-on-One: Mark Richt
One-on-One: Steve Spurrier
One-on-One: John Brantley
One-on-One: Knile Davis
News Conferences: ChizikRicht | Phillips | Dooley
More video from SEC Media Days

But Auburn seems forgotten as it enters this season, a squad that boasts just six returning starters, and one expected to be looking up at Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State in the SEC Western Division.

What’s more, a year ago, you would have been hard pressed to find too many football people or media types in the Wynfrey Hotel who pegged Auburn to win it all.

A year later, again at SEC Football Media Days, that number might even be smaller.

None of which seems to bother third-year coach Gene Chizik or his players. Chizik seems nonplussed, despite his program being the subject of rampant speculation and an NCAA investigation surrounding allegations about last year’s star of the team, quarterback Cam Newton.

“I’ve had a blast,” Chizkik said when asked about it. “I’ve had a blast. Our players have had a blast. Again, I think one of the things that we do a great job of at Auburn is keeping everything within the family. What an incredible journey we had in winning the national championship.

“Hasn’t taken the joy out of anything. Hasn’t changed anything for our players or our coaches or administration. We’ve had a ball.”

Chizik seems hell-bent on not letting the external factors affect the Tigers and continually pointed out the bright side of things, despite having so few returning experienced players.

“Our football team this time last year did not know what great looked like. I’ve said that several times,” Chizik said. “The good thing is the majority of the guys we have coming back, they know what great looks like.

“They also know we’re a far cry from that.”

To say the least. Not only is Newton gone, the first pick in the NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, but also defensive lineman and one-man wrecking crew Nick Fairley, who went 13th to the Detroit Lions.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be another Cameron Newton in college football,” Auburn junior tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen said. “He did things that were freakish, honestly. But we’re going to go back to doing the things we do and have the best players that give us the best opportunity to win and play to their strengths and figure out how to get back to the Georgia Dome. “

That’s obviously the company line.


HOOVER, Ala. -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik says an exchange with the NCAA enforcement director was "not confrontational at all."

Chizik said Thursday at SEC media days that he just asked Julie Roe Lach to clarify the process and she was "happy" to do so. The New York Times reported the discussion that occurred at SEC meetings in June with Roe Lach saying the investigation was still ongoing.

Chizik says he was under the impression "those were private discussions."The NCAA has been investigating the recruitment of Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick Cam Newton, but hasn't sent an official letter of inquiry to Auburn.

Chizik says recruits seldom ask about the investigation for the defending national champions, who have a mostly overhauled roster.

-- The Associated Press

“I don’t know that you replace a Cam Newton [51 touchdowns and 4,327 offensive yards in 2010] or Nick Fairley [60 tackles, 11 sacks] in terms of production right away. I would say anybody would be hard-pressed to do that,” Chizik said.

“I don’t know who will be the next Cam Newton or Nick Fairley. What I want is a bunch of guys in there that love football, that love academics, that love Auburn and guys that will lay it on the line like those guys did to give them an opportunity to be productive like them.

“Hard to replace. We all know that. If I stood up there and said anything different, that wouldn’t be the truth. At the end of the day, we got some great young players and hopefully we’ll get some guys that are productive as well.”

Junior Emory Blake, who caught 33 passes for eight TDs and 554 yards, welcomes the lower expectations.

“We’re using that to motivate us and keep us going,“ said Blake, son of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake. “People say all of our good players are gone and it kind of reminds us that people are doubting us out there and we have to do something to prove them wrong.”

Perhaps, but Newton passed for 30 TDs, ran for 20 more and even caught a pass for one.

“Auburn’s Auburn. One person doesn’t make our team,” Lutzenkirchen said. “We valued Cam. He was a special talent and he helped us win a lot of games and win the national championship last year. But at the same time, players graduate and players leave, but tradition doesn’t. So we’re still doing the same things day in and day out as we did when we had Cam.”

It’s been a whirlwind, of course, since Auburn beat Oregon last January 11 to win it all.

“I feel very blessed to have gone to the White House. My first time ever to D.C.,” Blake said. “Just getting to see the President. I was like a little kid when he walked in. I didn’t know how to react. But other than we’ve just been working. We had a great spring and an awesome summer, definitely the best summer since I’ve been here. Everyone’s real hungry and working to get back to where we were.”

Which is all Chizik can ask from a group who, once again, is not on anyone’s national-championship radar.