Jan. 7, 2014
PASADENA, Calif. - The very real agony of defeat hung heavy in the air in Auburn's locker room at the Rose Bowl on Monday night. Losing in the biggest game of all is never easy to swallow. It's particularly difficult when you believe you should have won.
And be assured, every player and coach in the Auburn locker room was convinced they should have won.
Auburn didn't win in the BCS Championship Game. It lost 34-31 to Florida State in the final seconds. Every player who was in the game, every coach, wondered what he might have done differently. You should win when you're ahead 21-3 in the second quarter. You should win when you take a 31-27 lead with 1:19 left in the game.
When it doesn't happen, it hurts. It hurts badly.
But the disappointment will subside. And this Auburn football team will and should take great pride in what happened in the remarkable season of 2013, Gus Malzahn's first as head coach.
In the game of college football, Auburn became Auburn again.
The Auburn team we saw in 2012 was something different. It was missing all the things that have made Auburn special over the years. It was clear for all to see. The seniors of 2013 vowed it would change, and it did.
"We just do everything for AU," defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "We lost that last year. Every single day we were trying to bring back the pride that people have in AU. We came up short, but everybody believes in the brand again.
"We brought the pride back to how it's supposed to be. Auburn has been great. It's a family. It's the dudes that played here before us. We just wanted to restore all that."
Not only did they restore it, they took it to new levels. And they came here to the West Coast fully intending and expecting to win. They thought they were the better team. They left still believing they were the better team. But in this game, the game for the big prize, it doesn't matter. It only matters who wins.
And Florida State, faced with a seemingly near impossible task, got it done with an 80-yard drive in the final 1:11.
Senior cornerback Chris Davis, who played such a significant role in getting Auburn here, said it's only just beginning.
"If they keep approaching the game like we did this season, stay together as a team and listen to what Coach Malzahn tells them," Davis said, "they'll definitely be back."
It won't be easy, even in the coming four-team playoff. It never is. Auburn has a chance to be better next season than it was this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean the record will be better. A schedule that includes road games at Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kansas State won't be easy to navigate.
Next season can wait. Here's what Malzahn, his coaches and Auburn players did this season:
They went from 3-9 to 12-2. They went from not being one of 55 teams receiving votes in the preseason polls to finishing No. 2. Only three Auburn teams - 1957, 2004 and 2010 finished that high or higher. They gave themselves and Auburn people a season filled with joyful memories, the kind that will be part of Auburn football lore.
And lest we forget, Auburn is the champion of the Southeastern Conference, which has three teams in the final top 5.
Tre Mason established himself as one of the great running backs in Auburn history and definitely had the best season of any running back in Auburn history. Quarterback Nick Marshall arrived in the summer and played with remarkable poise and toughness. The offensive line became one of the nation's best. The defense got better with each week.
In the end, Auburn didn't just have a good team. It had a great team.
Yes, Auburn is Auburn again.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: