Auburn football: Is it too early to start thinking about a national championship?
Auburn fans who don’t like for the Tigers to be hyped? Please look away now, because this is about to get real.
Forgive Gus Malzahn if he isn’t exactly already planning the parade route for the national championship celebration, Dabo Swinney-style, but after Auburn’s convincing win against Mississippi State on Saturday and a winnable game coming up at No. 10 Florida in Gainesville this weekend, big things are starting to be spoken when it comes to the Tigers’ potential this season.
Oh, and that win against then-No. 11 Oregon to open the season is looking better by the week.
So, the question is, is it too early to start talking about a national championship run on The Plains?
This is where you stop me and ask: Have you seen the rest of the Tigers’ schedule? Four of their final 7 games are against teams ranked in the top 10 of this week’s AP poll. The chances that Auburn gets through this unscathed and undefeated are overwhelmingly low, yet, as we have all seen, 1 loss — and sometimes 2 — will not keep you from the College Football Playoff.
And it seems that, for the first time since that magical 3-week run in 2017 when Auburn defeated Georgia and Alabama, both ranked No. 1 at the time, the Tigers are clicking on all levels. The sample size is small, sure, but everything was working for Malzahn’s offense and Kevin Steele’s defense Saturday night. With Bo Nix growing up before our eyes, throwing for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushing for another score, this Auburn offense is finally complementing what the defense has been doing all season.
We will know more about this team after the next 3 weeks — 3 consecutive road games — but as of now, they have as much of a right to claim one of the top 4 spots in the nation as anyone. And this isn’t exactly what we thought would happen heading into the season. Many pundits had the Tigers pinned for at least 1, if not 2, losses by now, Malzahn’s job basically gone and another appearance in a weak bowl game to cap the Gus era.
The Tigers, instead, have flipped the script. Nix, already a hero on campus 5 games into his career, has as level of a head as I have seen from a true freshman quarterback in a long time. He seems to get it and, more important, so do the guys surrounding him. The defense, hyped to be one of the best in the nation, have been lights out when it mattered and Malzahn … well, he is enjoying the ride.
Of course, this could all go downhill extremely quickly. Maybe no team in college football history has seen the quality of opponents that the Tigers will see over the next 2 months. Traveling to Gainesville and Baton Rouge would be a great schedule for most teams, but add in the visits from the rival Bulldogs and Crimson Tide, and you have a slate that, looking at it, will make you wince.
Navigate the trek perfectly or with just 1 loss and the Tigers will, more than likely, earn a spot in the SEC Championship and have a shot at the Playoff. Once you get there, anything can happen.
Too early to think of the possibility? I don’t think so.