The 45-41 victory in College Station stamped legitimacy on Auburn’s 6-1 record this season like no other victory had. This week’s No. 11 ranking in the season’s first Bowl Championship Series standings and the Associated Press poll, coupled with Auburn’s first rankings in the USA Today and Harris Interactive polls this season, reflect that.
This Auburn team is comprised mostly of the same players who suffered a 3-9 rabbit-hole fall in 2012. Clearly, the talent was never as bad as the record.
Last season also happened to be the one season since 2009 without current head coach Gus Malzahn on the coaching staff. Hmmm.
Since Malzahn first arrived as offensive coordinator in 2009, many saw him as the biggest reason for the successes of the Chizik years, including a national championship in 2010. It’s more obvious now that his hurry-up, no-huddle offense was right for this Auburn roster, but it goes beyond that.
Now that Malzahn is head coach and his impact goes beyond an offensive system, it clear there’s more to him than that.
Auburn’s first-year head coach came in selling “a new day” after Chizik’s ouster, and now the Tigers say things like this.
“We said we wanted to have the biggest turnaround in college football,” defensive end Dee Ford told AuburnTigers.com. “Why not win it all?”
That’s a long way from the obvious confidence crash of 2012.
It’s not hard to see what went wrong with Chizik a year ago. When Malzahn left for his first college head-coaching gig at Arkansas State, Chizik defaulted to his comfort zone. The former defensive coordinator switched Auburn back to slower, huddling, pro-style offense that played more to its defense.
The problem was that Auburn’s roster was filled with players raised on a fast-paced, spread offense. The heir apparent quarterback, Keihl Frazier, had known nothing else.
Things went bad early, and any hesitant buy-in was lost. Frazier’s and Auburn’s confidence plummeted. The Tigers were broken and couldn’t be fixed before going 0-8 in SEC play.
Auburn brought Malzahn back as head coach, and he brought back his roster-fitting system. That restored a measure of confidence and helped to add players such as junior college quarterback Nick Marshall to the roster.
As head coach, however, Malzahn could now exert his makeup on the program as a whole.
His “new day” message was a no-brainer. Auburn’s roster was starved for a new day, but there’s something to the personality behind the slogan.
It resonates now, more than two months after he greeted autograph seekers at Fan Day.
Fans placed items on the table then voiced sentiments like, “Beat Bama, coach.” Malzahn’s answer was the same to all comers.
“We’re gonna get after them, that’s for sure,” he said.
Four days after Auburn went on the road and upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M, we know what that means.
A month after the Tigers answered their one bad half this season with a 21-point second half at LSU, we get it.
Auburn has challenges ahead. The Tigers will likely be 7-1 after playing Florida Atlantic this week, but then come SEC road games at Arkansas and Tennessee. The regular season ends with Georgia and top-ranked Alabama at home.
By season’s end, Auburn’s record and place in polls could look more realistic for a team that, just a year ago, looked like it should relinquish its SEC membership card.
But the new head coach has more to him than HUNH, the acronym associated with his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. He has GAT.
We’re seeing that his teams will get after them.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.