Published Friday, November 16, 2012
BY JOHN ZENOR
AP SPORTS WRITER
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – Gene Chizik hasn't been able to send Auburn's seniors out with a successful final season, but he's hoping they'll leave Jordan-Hare Stadium as winners.
The Tigers (2-8) should be able to make that happen with Saturday's visit from Alabama A&M, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision.
"We've got to send our seniors out well," Chizik said. "It's been a tough year, but those guys have experienced a lot of success here."
A win in the next game - at No. 4 Alabama - would be much more meaningful, of course. But the 13-member senior class - including wide receiver Emory Blake, linebacker Daren Bates, guard John Sullen and tailback Onterio McCalebb - has won a national title and three bowl games before enduring this season that has jeopardized Chizik's job.
Nearly half of their 18 career losses have come this season.
The Tigers have turned toward a youth movement lately, with quarterback Jonathan Wallace and several fellow freshmen taking over starting jobs.
It's still a big game for sentimental reasons for the seniors - and to avoid an even more disastrous season. The Bulldogs (7-3), who play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, have never faced a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference though quarterback Deaunte Mason is a Kentucky transfer.
Now, they get to play one of the high-profile in-state programs.
"We've got a lot of kids on our team who are from the state of Alabama," Bulldogs coach Anthony Jones said. "This exposes them, the high schools they played at. It just gives a lot of people a lot of different levels of exposure.
"Deaunte came from an SEC school and now he gets a chance to compete with one. Everybody would like to have that statement to show they belong there. This is an opportunity for him to do so, along with all his other teammates."
The Tigers' only wins have come against nonconference opponents Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State.
Crowds have dwindled as the losses piled up, especially in the second half of blowout losses to No. 5 Georgia and No. 9 Texas A&M with thousands heading to the exits.
Chizik is hoping the seniors get a nice send-off in a stadium that won't be packed.
"I think quite a few people will be in the stands this week," wide receiver Travante Stallworth said.
Senior defensive back Ikeem Means is hoping this won't be the final Auburn home game for Chizik.
"He came in and we were in a bowl game every year, so I feel like he can get the job done," said Means, a former walk-on who has played in a team-high 48 games.
Eight of the seniors have started at least three games this season. The biggest stars are Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who's out for the season with an injury.
McCalebb is the No. 2 rusher and is tied with Lutzenkirchen for second on the team with 15 catches.
"It's finally coming to an end," McCalebb said of his college career. "It came real fast for me. Saturday, we're going to go out there and try to win a game. That's my last game in that stadium. I'm going to miss it. I love it. I love all the Auburn fans and I love the coaches."
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