HOOVER, Ala. — You can say whatever you want about Auburn's 2010 BCS title being tainted, the NCAA investigation that may or may not still be ongoing, or any number of other accusations that continue to be hurled the Tigers' way.
Gene Chizik isn't hearing you.
The Auburn coach steadfastly defended his program during a barrage of NCAA-related questions during SEC Media Days on Thursday, saying Auburn football is clean, its goals haven't changed simply because more than 20 seniors graduated, he has moved on from last year, and his only concern is making the 2011 team the best it can be.
"The journey from this point and time last year to now has been incredible for us," said Chizik, 49, who played at Clearwater High. "But I want to make this really, really clear because the minute our plane hit the ground in Montgomery on Jan. 11, we had moved on. We have been focused and locked on the 2011 football season."
Auburn begins the post-Cam Newton era on Sept. 3 against Utah. And the Tigers, who host Florida on Oct. 15, don't feel like they are getting the respect due a team that finished 14-0 with a BCS title last season.
"Again, like last year, people are underestimating us and not giving us a chance, so we're not in the spotlight as much," tight end Phillip Lutzinkirchen said. "But that's the way we like it. We'd rather prove everyone wrong than prove everyone right. That gives us a lot more motivation. We definitely have the talent, we just don't have the experience."
"Just how people are perceiving us to be this year, I think we are under the radar," receiver Emory Blake said. "People aren't expecting much from us and we take that to heart. We use that in our workouts and we're working hard."
The main reason preseason prognosticators might be looking past the Tigers is the loss of 18 starters, including Newton — the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner who accounted for a school-record 4,327 total yards last season and 20 touchdowns. Also gone is defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a first-round NFL draft pick, and most of the starting offensive line. Nine players remain from the 2007 and 2008 signing classes, Chizik said.
"We have a very young team," he said. "But make no mistake about it, the standard for Auburn University and the goals for Auburn University, no matter if we are going to play 22 freshmen, have not changed. That is to graduate our players and win championships."
Chizik, who is 22-5 in two seasons at Auburn, deftly handled questions about recent reports that the NCAA has not concluded its investigation into the recruitment of Newton and about an alleged heated conversation between the coach and NCAA vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach during the SEC spring meetings in June in Destin. Several SEC coaches spoke on the record about the incident with a reporter and said Chizik was told the NCAA has not concluded its overall investigation.
"I'll make this real clear: The NCAA on more than one occasion has said that Auburn has done nothing wrong in the recruitment of Cam Newton," Chizik said. "Nothing's changed. I can't control everybody's microphone. Can't control everybody's opinion. Don't try to. … I feel great about where we are as a football program. I sleep really good every night that my head hits the pillow. That's what I can control. So I know we're every day doing things the right way. That's what I can put my time and energy into. So that's what I do."
Antonya English can be reached at English@sptimes.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.