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Tuberville's Tigers have high expectations in 03

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
Aug. 1, 2003
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Tommy Tuberville found himself in an unfamiliar position Thursday morning.
It wasn't that he was addressing a room full of reporters on the final day of the SEC Football Media Days. He has been up on the stand before.
It wasn't talking about a new team. He has been with Auburn for five years.
What was different for Tuberville was that his team suddenly has lofty predictions to live up to for the upcoming football season.
"The last few years, we've basically been pretenders in that, trying to convince our players, 'Hey, we can go out there and do it,'" Tuberville said. "And we've done a pretty good job of that."
The Tigers went 9-4 last season, and continued recruiting efforts and a strong linebacker core has raised expectations for the 'other' team in Alabama.
Auburn is being selected to win the West Division in nearly every preseason poll.
The team is also receiving rankings in the Top 10 in most preseason polls.
"We don't win games in the papers," said Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. "It's what we do on Saturdays that counts."
Tuberville and company may be coming to terms with higher expectations this year, but the head coach does have experience with national championship level teams.
As a member of the Miami coaching staff for seven years, the Tigers coach was part of the Hurricanes' staff for three championship seasons.
Tuberville said he sees plenty of comparison to those Hurricane squads in his team entering the season.
"We are getting closer to what we had in Miami," Tuberville said. "I think our talent is very close, but the backups (at Miami) were third-year guys. They had a little more experience than what we do. I'm not saying we are Miami by any stretch of the imagination, but we are getting a lot closer."
The experience of being on the staff of a team that won it all should help the coach mold his current squad into champions.
"I was at Miami with Jimmy Johnson, and I've talked with Jimmy this summer about how to handle expectations," Tuberville said. "To win a championship, you have to find ways to win games when you don't play well. That is what separates a good team from a great team. We have the makeup to do that, and now, we have to find if we have the ability to get the job done."
Auburn will turn to its running backs to fuel the offense throughout the season.
Junior backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams combined to gain 1,753 yards last season for the Tigers.
The two running backs also scored a combined 23 touchdowns in 2002.
"I have a lot of teammates that make plays, and it's my job to get the ball to them," Campbell said. "The receivers and myself have been working hard this offseason to make sure we can be effective and keep the pressure off the running game."
Auburn will have a new voice in the ears of its offensive players.
Hugh Nall, the team's new offensive coordinator, will bring a fresh attitude to the Tigers.
"(Nall) played offensive line for Vince Dooley at Georgia, and he was a center when Herschel Walker was there," Tuberville said. "He is hard-nosed. We had more of a passing guy in Bobby Petrino, who tried to balance the attack. We won't have a balance this year at Auburn. We are going to be a running team. Hugh's work ethic and demeanor has carried over to the offense."
On defense, the Tigers field one of the most intimidating linebacker corps in the SEC and the nation.
Led by seniors Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas, Auburn's linebackers are slotted in the top five of most preseason unit rankings.
"I think it is great how well we play together," Dansby said. "I just know that we have to all be on the same page from our coaches right down to our trainers."
No matter how many preseason accolades the team receives, Tuberville knows there will be no easy road out of the West.
"You take (Ole Miss quarterback) Eli Manning, all the players that LSU has from top to bottom, Arkansas has a lot of good starters; everybody has good players," Tuberville said. "It's very competitive. I think overall this is the most talent that I've seen in the league since I got here in 1995."