Sept. 18, 2013
The fall was so fast and so hard that it left even the most loyal of Auburn supporters dazed. Less than two years after more than 50,000 made what could only be described as a pilgrimage to Glendale, Ariz., and celebrated a national championship, Auburn finished a 3-9 season in which it was outscored 150-21 in the final three Southeastern Conference games.
The climb back began when Gus Malzahn was named head coach on Dec. 4. The fall wasn't just a matter of wins and losses, and the climb back won't be either.
The season couldn't have started any better from a record standpoint. The Tigers are 3-0 going into Saturday's game at LSU. Players once again believe they can win like Auburn has won before. But you don't hear analysts breaking down the game on ESPN or talking about it on the radio. It seems to be viewed as a foregone conclusion that LSU will win in a romp. And maybe it will. Who knows?
An interesting thing has happened in the SEC in the past couple of years, really since Auburn won the national championship. The national perception is that Alabama, LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M are on one level and the rest of the league is on another.
Certainly, that was the case last season. Whether it will be the case this season remains to be seen. It wasn't the case the year before that or the year before or the year before, but it seems now that is viewed as the way life is and will be in the SEC.
With the coming of massive TV contracts, lots of things have changed. TV networks, as much as they deny it, spend most of their time talking about and praising the schools that get the highest ratings. They like to talk about loveable underdogs, too. Everybody else - and that's the vast majority of teams in college football - is pretty much out of luck.
Auburn, right now, is neither a ratings cash cow nor a loveable underdog. And when it comes to national attention, that's not a good place to be.
Since the SEC went to divisions in 1992, Auburn has had three perfect seasons. How many other SEC teams have done that? Well, none, to be exact. Auburn has won nine or more games 10 times since 1992. How many other SEC schools have done better than that? Well, two of them. Florida has won nine or more 15 times since 1992 and Alabama 11 times. Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia all have done it 10 times.
The first step for Auburn football in its climb back is to become relevant again, to become part of the conversation again. That would certainly happen with an upset of LSU on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but win or lose, it will happen eventually.
Auburn isn't welcomed back into the elite of the college game as readily as some, but it's welcomed back more readily than others.
History tells us that Auburn will contend for championships and win championships again. It always has. It's a matter of when, and no one can answer that question just yet.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: