Jan. 11, 2014
One of the really good things about college football is that it doesn’t take winning a national championship to be happy when a season is over. Lots of players on lots teams are happy today.
Michigan State is happy. Missouri is happy. South Carolina is happy. Oklahoma is happy. Clemson is happy. Central Florida is downright giddy. The list goes on.
Auburn players aren’t happy. They lost the biggest game on the biggest stage. Making it worse, they are convinced and will be forever convinced that they had the better team. They believed that before the game and they believed it even more after the game. Florida State probably had more NFL prospects, but Auburn far more physical.
That it didn’t translate into a victory and a national championship will forever be a disappointment. But it won’t be long before Auburn players are happy, too. At least it shouldn’t be.
Indomitable running back Tre Mason mused on the day he announced he was leaving for the NFL that he still had not won a championship. He was wrong. He won an SEC championship, and that certainly counts. He’ll get big, gaudy ring for that, too. Defensive back Ryan White tweeted that the Tigers were inches away from greatness. He was wrong, too.
You win 12 games and finish ranked No. 2 in the polls and win the SEC championship a year after going 3-9, greatness has been achieved. And that is certainly something about which to be happy.
The symbolic turning of the page came Friday, when head coach Gus Malzahn reflected on his first season and looked to the future.
The storylines of the past six months are gone. Malzahn is no longer a first-year coach with a first-year staff. Auburn is no longer coming off a 3-9 season. The story now is how the Tigers can build on the remarkable accomplishments of the past five months.
Auburn has a chance to be even better next season than it was this season, though the record might not be better. Playing road games at Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Kansas State, along with LSU and South Carolina at home, is a daunting task.
Malzahn made it clear Friday that he’s not backing down from that challenge.
As for Auburn players, it is their challenge to come together like the Tigers of 2013 did, to work as hard with as much determination and play with as much fire, passion and confidence. If they do, they might just get a chance at redemption in the first four-team playoff next season.
Malzahn challenged the seniors of 2013 to take responsibility and hold their teammates accountable. They did it. The results were almost no off-field problems and a season no one associated with Auburn will forget anytime soon.
Are there people really trying to make an issue out of speculation that Auburn knew Florida State’s signals? Really? I don’t know if that happened or not, but I know studying opponents’ signals and seeing if they can be read is a part of pregame preparation for almost every team.
If Florida State coaches used the same signals last Monday night they used when Dameyune Craig was an assistant there, well, that was not very wise.
And by the way, even if it happened, it’s not against any rules, written or unwritten.
Lane Kiffin as Alabama’s offensive coordinator? That’s a move not many would have seen coming. It’ll be interesting to watch how it works. Kiffin had a couple of years of great success as Pete Carroll’s offensive coordinator at USC. Maybe that’s his niche. Being a head coach certainly wasn’t.
Offensive tackle Avery Young suffered a broken bone in his hand on the first play of the game against Florida State and, despite the pain, saw it through to the end and played very well.
That kind of commitment is one of the big reasons the Tigers came within 13 seconds of a national championship and why, as Malzahn said, the future looks very bright.
Until next time …
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: