Fayetteville, AR - Auburn's hiring of Gene Chizik in December was a surprise move given his lack of success as a head coach, but he's quickly winning over the Tiger faithful.
Chizik and No. 17 Auburn look for the school's first 6-0 start in five years when they visit SEC rival Arkansas on Saturday.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made Auburn -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on Auburn –3 (View College Football bet percentages).
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0) went 5-7 last year, capping off the disappointing season under Tubby Tuberville with a 36-0 loss to conference foe - and top-ranked - Alabama. It was the school's first losing season since 1999 and ultimately led to Tuberville stepping down just four years after he led the team to a perfect season.
To replace Tuberville, who went 85-40 in 10 seasons, Auburn hired Chizik, who was the Tigers' defensive coordinator in 2004.
Chizik, who also was a coordinator at Texas, was coming off a 2-10 season in 2008 and a 3-9 campaign in 2007 with Iowa State, though.
So far, doubts regarding Chizik's qualifications have been quieted with an impressive start, although it's the offense that has keyed Auburn's fast start. A 26-22 win at Tennessee last Saturday propelled the Tigers into the top 25 for the first time since halfway through last season.
"I guess it's a good thing but it really doesn't matter to be ranked," cornerback Walt McFadden said. "It'll put a smile to our face but we can't let that get to our heads."
After five games, the Tigers rank fifth in the nation in yards per game at 521.3 and are second in points scored with 207 - one shy of their total from all last season.
Ben Tate has been a major contributor to that success. He's the SEC's No. 2 rusher with 108.0 yards per game, and had 128 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries against the Volunteers.
Quarterback Chris Todd has been equally effective. Coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Todd appeared in seven games in 2008, throwing for 903 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions. The senior was 19 of 32 for 218 yards and one score against Tennessee, giving him 12 touchdowns and one interception this year. His 1,230 passing yards lead the SEC.
Tennessee came into last weekend ranked eighth in the Football Subdivision in yards allowed with 233.0, but the Vols gave up 459 yards to Auburn, which had the ball for almost 10 minutes longer than Tennessee.
"That just lets everyone know that we're for real," Tate said. "It kind of gives us confidence in ourselves too. They are one of the best defenses in the country with one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. That just shows us that our hard work is paying off."
The Razorbacks (2-2, 0-2) are coming off a 47-19 victory over Texas A&M last Saturday. After back-to-back losses to ranked SEC foes Georgia and Alabama, Arkansas scored 23 second-quarter points against the Aggies and cruised through the second half. Jeff Mallett finished 17 of 27 for 271 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Mallett, a transfer from Michigan, has thrown 11 touchdowns this season. Arkansas begins the week ranked seventh in the FBS in passing yards per game with 329.0.
"He's an extremely good quarterback," Chizik said. "He is what makes their passing game go. They also have some great receivers for him to throw too. ... We have to work on our open-field tackling."
Arkansas is trying to avoid losing its first three SEC games since 2007. The Razorbacks have given up 87 points and 955 yards of offense in their two conference losses, allowing eight passing touchdowns.
"(Auburn is) undefeated and we are going to be on national television," Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. "It's a big game and we're going to do everything in our power."
The Tigers have won three straight at Fayetteville.
Posted: 10/6/09 10:45PM ET