Auburn's Journey: Tigers Look To Repeat '13 Magic
By Dan Harralson
The BCS era officially is over in college football and it went out with a bang. Jameis Winston defied all odds; the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback led the Seminoles for a game-winning touchdown drive.
Auburn quieted naysayers who did not believe the Tigers defense was good enough to contain Winston and the high-flying Florida State offense. Winston was playing out of sync for more than three quarters, but with 1:19 left on the clock Jameis decidedly went 6 for 7. He found Kelvin Benjamin in the same end zone where Texas QB Vince Young ran to claim the 2005 BCS national championship. Auburn did not have enough time to muster another miracle. The SEC was denied eight consecutive BCS national championships, and the state of Alabama was denied five consecutive.
How Far Has Auburn Come?
Undoubtedly, Auburn has refueled their program by bringing back Gus Malzahn. A year removed from a 3-9 overall record (winless in the SEC), Malzahn accomplished what most thought impossible. Auburn surprised the 13 other members of the Southeastern Conference by winning the championship and avowing that Malzahn will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
Was Nick Marshall The Key In 2013?
Georgia transfer Nick Marshall stepped into the leadership role when he was named starting quarterback at the end of fall camp. Timely throws helped Marshall adapt to the Malzahn offense early. He grew into the role during the opening win against Washington State and then found his stride in the final moments of the comeback win against Mississippi State.
A Tigers victory in College Station over Texas A&M marked the beginning of national media attention. Marshall had the third-best season as a quarterback in Auburn history with 3,044 yards of total offense, subject only to Cam Newton and Dameyune Craig. Cam and Craig both delivered memorable Auburn seasons, but neither presented an encore performance. Marshall will have the opportunity to make another magical run.
How Did Auburn Turn Things Around After The LSU Loss?
The media hardly mentioned Auburn's loss to LSU, though it was a sobering talking point amongst the players. The loss helped ignite Auburn's running game, and the players started believing in SEC victory after realizing that they made too many miscues on the field during a monsoon at LSU. Rod Bramblett, the radio voice of the Auburn Tigers, mentioned that it was a turning point in Auburn's season.
Where Does Auburn Go From Here?
Reese Dismukes already announced his commitment to return for his senior season, moments after the Florida State loss. Auburn's entire offensive line is set to return for the 2014 season. The only looming question mark is left tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson is expected to be a late first-round to early second-round draft pick and could possibly be a Top Five pick if Robinson returns in 2014, according to ESPN's Todd McShay.
Tre Mason will have to make up his mind regarding his NFL future. Mason is currently a third- to fourth-round pick and it appears his stock may not increase with a return trip to college ball. Auburn will rebound from Mason's departure; Cameron Artist-Payne and Corey Grant will return at the tailback position with a combined 1,257 yards on the ground and 14 TDs. Incoming freshman running back Racean Thomas certainly will have a role in the Auburn running attack when fall camp rolls around.
The receiving corps will not miss a beat as the Tigers bring back Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis, Quan Bray and top tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Defensively, Auburn can and should get better. Florida State's game-winning touchdown was a picture-perfect problem that Auburn dealt with all season long — short defensive backs covering taller receivers. Ellis Johnson transformed 2012's dismal defense with a "bend and don't break" style that allowed Auburn to compete at a high level in 2013 and should continue to improve in 2014.