March 23, 2014
In the 15-plus months since Gus Malzahn was named Auburn's head coach, the change in attitude within the program is truly striking.
A year ago, Auburn players wanted badly to believe, but they were still scarred by what had happened in 2012. This year, the pain of a gut-wrenching loss in BCS Championship Game still lingers, but it's very different. These players make it clear they fully intend to make that right by going back. That doesn't mean it will happen, but they believe they can do it and are working hard to make it happen.
Team chemistry is an elusive thing, but this team certainly seems to have it. According to the people closest to Auburn players, far from resting on their remarkable run last season, they are working and practicing with a fervor that says they are hungrier than ever.
How good is softball coach Clint Myers? Auburn, a middling SEC team for all the program's existence, is off to the best start in school history. I haven't seen all that many Auburn softball games over the years, but I've seen enough to know this is a different deal. Just think what it's going to be like when Myers' roster is fully loaded.
How about baseball coach Sunny Golloway? After some rough patches early in the season, his players have bought into playing his way. The result? Eleven wins in the last 12 games and a 4-1 start in the Southeastern Conference.
Golloway has never backed off his early prediction that his first Auburn team would go to Omaha for the College World Series. The Tigers are playing like a team that has a chance.
And how good is freshman pitcher Keegan Thompson? Good enough that I believe he just might be the best freshman pitcher I've seen at Auburn. He dominated Texas A&M last week. He dominated Tennessee on Saturday. He is 5-0 for the season with an ERA of 0.78 in 46 1/3 innings.
According to sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson, senior Gabe Wright and sophomore Montravius Adams, defensive tackles last season, are working at defensive end this spring. Spring is a time for experimenting, so that doesn't mean they'll be there when the season starts, but it means they could be.
The excitement that has surrounded Bruce Pearl being named Auburn's head basketball is unprecedented in my 44-plus years as a sports writer in Alabama. On a national level, athletics director Jay Jacobs' decision has generated more positive publicity for Auburn than money could buy.
Word is that Pearl plans to be at Auburn's game against Old Dominion in the WNIT on Monday night. He'll for sure get a raucous reception and might even increase ticket sales a bit.
My friend Blake Eddins, who played basketball at Arkansas, tweeted this on Saturday: "Officiating is killing college hoops. Slowly but surely stealing its soul. So frustrating to see the game being regulated to this extreme."
I couldn't agree more. You can't help but wonder who thought a steady parade to the free throw line would make the game better.
It's amazing how TV commentators struggle to come up with something to say when the team they expect to win finds itself in trouble. When No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina led No. 1 seed Virginia by 10 in the first half Friday, we heard that Virginia players were struggling because they'd been sitting around the hotel all day. Coastal Carolina players weren't sitting around the hotel all day?
For the first time in a while, senior closer Terrance Dedrick looked Saturday like he looked down the stretch last season. He was unhittable when he took the mound in the ninth inning against Tennessee and got his second save in two games.
Until next time ...
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: