Role Reversal: Auburn enters SEC Media Days as the hunted
Head coach Gus Malzahn, quarterback Nick Marshall, center Reese Dismukes and defensive lineman Gabe Wright will represent the Auburn Tigers at this year’s SEC Media Days.
They have what every coach and every player in the league wants: the SEC Championship.
The 13 other coaches want to be on that podium in the Georgia Dome accepting the conference trophy. All of them want to point to their ecstatic fan base and say “Thank you to the best fans in the world.” The other players want to look up and the see the confetti fall from the rafters. They want to dive into it and make confetti snow angels. They want to hold up a massive SEC logo as their fans chant “SEC, SEC, SEC.”
This year Auburn is the hunted. The rest of the league is the hunters.
At last year’s SEC Media Days no one could have envisioned the Tigers making the biggest turning around in FBS history. Malzahn was 18 questions into his session with the media when he was asked could Auburn rise back up as fast as they fell.
“I told our guys last year is last year,” said Malzahn. “I don’t care why, how, whatever. We’re putting it in our rearview mirror. We’re looking to the future. I talked about a new day. When I first got there, we had to do some Dr.Phil‑ing. There were some mental scars. I feel good about our team. They put it in their rearview mirror and they’re looking in the future.”
Numerous factors besides some Dr. Phil-ing brought the Tigers to within 13 seconds of a national championship. A favorable schedule, tremendous play-calling, an unstoppable zone-read offense, a healthy offensive line, a bend-but-don’t-break defense, an improved passing game as the season progressed and a little bit of luck returned Auburn to the way Auburn should be.
History tells us that it is quite difficult to win back-to-back SEC Championships. Tennessee was the last team to pull it off in 1997 and 1998. It won’t be impossible though for Auburn.
Malzahn is looking to spice up the offense by developing an aerial game. Having a more balanced attack will keep Auburn from being run-heavy. Adding JUCO star receiver D’haquille “Duke” Williams alongside returning deep threat Sammie Coates will advance the passing game.
Who Auburn lost to the NFL Draft will have admirable replacements. Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne could tag-team the running back spot with Tre Mason now with the St. Louis Rams. Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes feels as if he has six proven starters. Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman will battle to replace Greg Robinson at left tackle. Wright, LaDarius Owens along with sophomores Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniels and possibly Carl Lawson will fill the pass-rushing void left by Dee Ford.
The schedule might be the only thing that gets in the way of Auburn repeating. For the first time ever the Tigers play both Alabama and Georgia on the road in same season, both obviously looking for some big-time revenge. In addition, they travel to Mississippi and Mississippi State.
Back-to-back championships would be quite an encore for Malzahn and Auburn. Based upon what happened last year, we shouldn’t put it past them.