Written by Cole Locascio
It's amazing how quickly the year passes you by when winning. At this point last season, our Tigers were mourning yet another blowout loss at the hands of Johnny Football and the Aggies. This year, the good guys are 7-1, second in the SEC, and ranked eleventh in the BCS poll. Could this team go down as the biggest turnaround in college football history? Time to finish out strong.
With four games remaining on the schedule, three of which Auburn will be favored in, it's only natural to get a little excited about "what could be". To end the season, the Tigers face four opponents: all SEC teams, two on the road, and two teams who were in the top-5 at some point in the year. Sure, our two road games are against teams we should beat, but we all know that Arkansas is never a gimme, especially on the road. The other road game? A trip to Knoxville on November 9th that will be a true test against an up and down Volunteers team headed by surging head coach, Butch Jones. And to end the year? Two home games against teams we've faced a few times in years past - Georgia and Alabama.
Let's be honest, other than the true homers that predict victory upon victory for Auburn, nobody saw this one coming. The product that was placed on the field last season was not Auburn football - it was a joke. It's hard to say when the downfall began; maybe the shootings in June of 2012, maybe after the Clemson loss to start the year, but who really knows? Nobody. Nobody saw 2012 coming, just like nobody saw 2013 coming. I attended ten Auburn games last year, so I know, firsthand, how atrocious Chizik's team was. The thing is, it wasn't the level of play that frustrated me the most, but it was the fact that whenever our opponent took the lead last year, the fight seemed over - every single time. The issue certainly wasn't a lack of talent, as Chizik recruited three top-10 recruiting classes while on the Plains, instead it was the mentality that was bestowed on the players right out of the gate last season. A mentality that formed a winless, 3-9 team, and most likely the worst to ever step on Pat Dye Field. Sitting in Kyle Field two weeks ago, I found myself having a tough time shaking off this whole perception of being down and out, because for the last year or so, that's what Auburn football has consisted of - quitters. Sure, "quitters" might be a bit harsh, but can anyone else tell me a better way to put it? A few weeks ago in College Station, when the Johnny Manziel/Mike Evans duo struck before the half to go up by seven, I found my face smashed into my hands with all hope thrown out of section 148. I know, seven points seems a bit ridiculous to get worked up about, but that's what Auburn has injected me with - pure negativity.
Queue the lights: In steps in, the mad scientist himself, the evil genius, Gus Malzahn - the head ballcoach who finds amusement in terrifying and torturing defensive coaches for sixty straight minutes with no mercy. From 1-7 to 7-1, the turnaround job that Malzahn and his staff underwent was nothing short of remarkable, as they stepped into the Plains, a team in complete shambles, and earned the 13th best recruiting class in the country. 13 would be an amazing feat for any first-year staff, let alone one that stepped into a 3-9 program. The Gus Bus rolled into the Plains with a certain attitude that turned out to be just needed for not only the players, but all surrounding this historical program. The recruitment of Nick Marshall was crucial, as it was apparent that nobody on scholarship could meet the standards of Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee. Let's not forget about the development of true-freshman, Jeremy Johnson, either. Johnson, for his age, is the most poised quarterback that I have ever seen. The way the kid carries himself, and his stature in the pocket is nothing short of spectacular to gaze upon, and it's all thanks to those two offensive masterminds, Lashlee and Malzahn. I'll admit it, I had other choices in mind for the head coaching position in December. I just didn't find Gus to be a "bold" hire, which is something I thought this program was in dire need of at that point, but as it turns out, Jay Jacobs did exactly what he needed to do in hiring Malzahn, because the fans were crying for immediate success and rebound. Who better than to grab a guy that's only two years removed from the program, and one who is familiar with almost all of the personnel already in place. It was a recipe for instant success.
Coach Malzahn has brought hope to my soul again - hope that on any given Saturday, my Auburn Tigers can hit the field and take on anyone in their path. Yes, even the high and mighty Crimson Tide. The moment Dee Ford drove Manziel into the ground on 4th & 13, tears filled my eyes. But unlike last year, these tears formed in the shape of happiness... and they kept on coming. Gus has transformed a bunch of quitters into fighters, seemingly overnight. It's been a while since I've seen this level of tackling, physicality, and hard-nosed running at Auburn, something even the 2010 team struggled with from time to time. With four SEC games remaining, I don't know where this team will land in postseason play - the opportunities range from a Nashville bowl game to playing in Pasadena for the National Championship, but you can bet that Gus has this team believing in nothing less than just that. War Damn Eagle, everyone. Let's go beat Arkansas. One game at a time.