Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala., Nov. 10
Coach: Gene Chizik, 30-10 in three seasons at Auburn; 35-29 overall.
Last year: 8-5 (4-4 SEC), finished fourth in the SEC West and defeated Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Best win: A 16-13 victory at then 10th-ranked South Carolina, which would come back to haunt the Gamecocks by the end of the season.
Worst loss: The 42-14 drubbing by Alabama, the eventual national champions. Numerically the Tigers' beatdown by Georgia was worse, but losing by four TDs carries a special sting when it's in the Iron Bowl (and in front of your home crowd, no less).
Returning starters: 18 (seven offense, nine defense, two special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Up, but perhaps only incrementally for the time being. The Tigers are certainly in a better position than they were this time last year, when they were poised to bring back only seven starters from the previous season's national-title-winning squad; the fact that they still managed to win eight games with such an inexperienced roster was, if not a minor miracle, then certainly a noteworthy achievement. In hiring former Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to replace Ted Roof, they've also made a definite upgrade in the DC's office. However, the transition from Roof to VanGorder will entail some initial growing pains regardless of the returning talent. And that defense will still have its work cut out for it compensating for an offense that no longer has Gus Malzahn running it and appears to have come no closer to locating an every-down starting QB.
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): The Dawgs repeat last year's shocking blowout of the Tigers on a different field, strangling the regrouping Auburn offense and carpet-bombing VanGorder's new-look D. The latter task will certainly be the more difficult of the two, but it's not like Mark Richt isn't familiar with what VanGorder (and his secondary coach, fellow ex-Georgia DC Willie Martinez) will try to put on the field. The key is Georgia's offensive line -- if they've managed to grow up a bit in the first two months of the season, then they could be formidable against an Auburn run defense that ranked 94th in the nation last season. Should Georgia beat Auburn again this year, it'd be their sixth win in the last seven installments of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, and would tie up a perennially close series the Dawgs last led in 1984.
Worst-case scenario: VanGorder proves he knows his old boss better than his old boss knows him, and his relatively experienced defensive front stifles the Dawgs' rushing attack, turning the game into a grueling trench battle from which the Tigers eventually emerge victorious. With the UGA offensive line rebuilding and Isaiah Crowell sent packing, Bulldog Nation just can't afford to assume anything about the ground game at this point. And if that part of the offense can't give VanGorder something to respect, his defensive ends, Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae, will feel free to tee off on Aaron Murray just like David Pollack and a succession of nasty DEs swallowed up opposing quarterbacks when BVG stalked the sidelines in Athens.