Phillip Marshall: A different dynamic for 2014 Tigers

March 14, 2014

Auburn’s 2013 football team went through spring practice with relative anonymity. There was interest among Auburn folks, of course. There always is. There was some curiosity about first-year head Gus Malzahn, but for the most part, national attention was focused elsewhere.

Even the most optimistic fans hoped for a bowl game and to begin the climb back from the worst Auburn season in 60 years. Anything more than that seemed like a pipe dream. We all know what happened. The Tigers won 12 games, won the Southeastern Conference championship, came within 13 seconds of the national championship and finished No. 2 in the final polls.

The 2014 Tigers take the field Tuesday morning for another spring practice. The dynamic is oh so different.

This Auburn team has a pile of impact players back, including quarterback Nick Marshall, and will almost certainly be ranked in the top five going into next season. There will be a steady stream of national media types in town to check things out. That’s what you’re looking for when you build a program, but it’s also a real challenge. Getting to the top is very hard, but most who have been there will tell you that staying there is even harder.

It’s been 14 years since an Auburn team was ranked in the top five in preseason polls. Even a perfect season in 2004 and a national championship in 2010 didn’t spark those kinds of expectations. The 2011 team was ranked all the way down at No. 23 in the preseason. The 2005 team was ranked No. 16. Those polls aggravated Auburn fans, but they turned out to be fairly accurate. The 2005 team finished ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll and the 2011 team was not ranked at all in the final polls.


 

 

This season, the expectations are there and they aren’t going away. They are there for those who observe and they are there for Auburn players and coaches.

Malzahn knows better than most the dangers of letting those expectations get out of control. If they take away the hunger that drove last season’s team, you can forget about another championship. That’s why, according to players, the offseason program has been more demanding than last year.

As driven as Malzahn is, as wounded as he was by coming 13 seconds short of a national championship, I have little doubt that the Tigers will be any less focused and determined in 2014 than they were in 2013.

Auburn has been ranked in the Associated Press poll’s preseason top ten 10 times since 1983 and in the top five three times:

1983

Preseason poll: No. 5

Final poll: No. 3 (11-1)

1984

Preseason poll: No. 1

Final poll: No. 14 (9-4)

1985

Preseason poll: No. 2

Final poll: Unranked (8-4)

1986

Preseason poll: No. 6

Final poll: No. 6 (10-2)

1987

Preseason poll: No. 5

Final poll: No. 7 (9-1-2)

1988

Preseason poll: No. 7

Final poll: No. 8 (10-2)

1989

Preseason poll: No. 6

Final poll: No.6

1990

Preseason poll: No. 3

Final poll: No. 19 (8-3-1)

2003

Preseason poll: No. 6

Final poll: Unranked (8-5)

2008

Preseason poll: No. 10

Final poll: Unranked (5-7)

 
       

Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: