September 30, 2014

(AP) - Auburn is gearing up for a brutal stretch that could bury its hopes of repeating as SEC champion or establish it firmly as a national title contender again.

Fifth-ranked Auburn starts the parade of games that includes five opponents ranked in the top 15 with No. 15 LSU on Saturday night. It's just Round 1 of survive-and-advance time that follows a 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech last weekend.

Receiver Quan Bray is confident Auburn (4-0, 1-0) can handle it and cites the ''13 seconds better'' mantra after losing to Florida State in last season's BCS title game on a touchdown with that amount of time remaining.

''It's not going to be hard for us to win the SEC championship,'' Bray said. ''We're the defending SEC champions, and we're going to try to defend that. And we're going to try to move on and be 13 seconds better.

''We're going to earn it. We put in the grind for that, so we're definitely going to come out and play ball. They're going to have to take it from us.''

The list of contenders is long in the SEC West, where six teams are ranked in the top 15.

LSU (4-1, 0-1) jumped two spots to that ranking this week following last Saturday's 63-7 victory over New Mexico State, and it represents Auburn's toughest challenge yet.

Auburn's six-game stretch also includes East Division teams South Carolina, which just fell from the rankings, and No. 13 Georgia. Making the situation tougher is the uncertainty of three starters who were hurt against Louisiana Tech: Right tackle Patrick Miller and linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy.

Offensively, Auburn has struggled the past two games with consistency and converting third downs, something that had been a strength. Coach Gus Malzahn said the perfect record is the most meaningful statistic but knows that ''we're fixing to enter the grind.''

''I think we're in a good spot,'' Malzahn said. ''We've got to keep improving. We did that last year. That's hard to do. Very few teams can do that, and that's our challenge.''

If injuries are Auburn's big question mark coming into this game, LSU's is the quarterback position.

Sophomore starter Anthony Jennings had two completions for 11 yards in five attempts last Saturday night while throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble. Freshman Brandon Harris' seven drives all culminated in touchdowns. He was 11 of 14 for 178 yards and three TDs, and coach Les Miles named him the starter Monday.

''It stands to reason that (Harris) will get the first snaps in the next game,'' Miles said. ''He has done the things we have asked him to do. He has made quality decisions with the ball.''

Jennings has completed 50.6 percent of his passes (42 of 83) for 734 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. In a smaller body of work, Harris has completed 73.3 percent (22 of 30) for 394 yards and six scores with one INT.

''Harris has some ad-lib to his game which is very, very positive,'' Miles said. ''He is really fast and can really throw the ball. He can extend a play so really good things can happen.''

LSU plans to continue practicing first-team offense against first-team defense as it did last week following a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 20.

''We will practice very much like we practiced this week,'' Miles said. ''We will pipe in some noise and get a game plan ready for those guys (Auburn). It is going to be a lot of fun to prepare for a quality opponent at their house.''

Auburn players insist they've been taking the ''one game at a time'' mentality and not dwelling on the upcoming stretch. Auburn follows this game with road trips to No. 12 Mississippi State, No. 11 Mississippi and Georgia along with home games against South Carolina and No. 6 Texas A&M.

And that doesn't even count the regular-season finale against No. 3 Alabama.

''It's time to step it up,'' cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. ''This is what we came to Auburn to do.''

LSU has won three straight and six of seven in the series. It handed Auburn its only regular-season loss in 2013 by jumping out to a 21-0 halftime lead en route to a 35-21 home win Sept. 21.

"It was wet and rainy. It started off slow but we came back the second half and made some adjustments and got back on track but it was a little bit too late," running back Corey Grant said. "Last year, that game really turned our heads though. It made us realize what we were capable of.

"We're going to really be focused on that game. With it being LSU and an SEC game, everybody is going to be fighting for that win."

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