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Phillip Marshall: Top 10 Tigers are now a target

Oct. 30, 2013

We’ve seen this Auburn football team come from behind in the final minutes to win big games. We’ve seen this team play better week after week. We’ve seen it dominate the fourth quarter time after time.

But here’s what we haven’t seen: We haven’t seen this team play with the target on its back that comes with being a top 10 team.

The only real interruption in this team’s upward spiral, really, was the first half in the rain at LSU. There has not been game in which the Tigers appeared flat or uninspired, not even against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic.

Now it’s down to the home stretch, kind of a hybrid version of what Pat Dye used to call Amen Corner. And Auburn is no longer carrying the burden of last season’s 3-9 record. No, Auburn is a team with a chance to play for a championship.

A win over Auburn on Saturday in Fayetteville would be a real boost for Arkansas and loud-talking coach Bret Bielema. The same goes for Tennessee and first-year coach Butch Jones. You don’t catch anyone looking the other way when you’re the nation’s No. 8 team.

Auburn should be Arkansas and it should beat Tennessee. It has better players. Get that done, and the next two games – Georgia and Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium – will be lots of fun.

Moving on:

To talk to Sonny Smith is to smile and laugh a lot. So it has been since the first time I met him, shortly after he was named Auburn’s head basketball coach in 1978.

Sonny’s way with words, his streams of one-liners, kept people laughing throughout the SEC for 12 seasons. But most of all, Smith was a basketball coach, a winner in a time when winning in the SEC was harder than before or since.



After finishing his coaching career at Virginia Commonwealth, Sonny and his wife, Jan, moved to Birmingham and finally back to Auburn to be close to daughter Sherry and the grandchildren. He’s an Auburn man and has been since the day he took the job.

Over the past 35 years, I’ve talked with Sonny about so many things, about basketball and life. And it’s always fascinating. As Auburn romped to a 109-67 victory over Victory University in its first exhibition game Monday night, I sat with Smith. The talk was about basketball.

He talked about how the game has changed, how it’s less about coaching and more about talent. He talked about Auburn’s team, one he believes is much better than last season. And we reminisced about some of the great days in Auburn’s basketball history.

Smith took Auburn to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments from 1984-1988. That’s five of the eight NCAA appearances in Auburn history. With Chuck Person leading the way, his 1986 team lost a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final.

“I believe we’d have won the national championship if we won that game,” Smith said.

They didn’t, but it’s the closest Auburn ever came.

Without going into detail, Arkansas’ complaint about the video Auburn provided was much ado about next to nothing. There was no intent to hide anything or deceive anyone.

I’m old enough to remember when most SEC football coaches were actually friends. They’d compete on Saturdays and victor and vanquished would talk on Monday about what happened, why and how.

I miss those days, but they couldn’t last once coaches started making millions of dollars a year.

Every team wants to believe it can win every game. Some really do believe it. Some go into every game hoping to win and some go into every game expecting to win.

At the first of the season, I would have put Auburn in the hoping to win category. As the Tigers go into their ninth game, I’d say they expect to win every game. Truth is, they expected to win at LSU and are still aggravated to this day that they didn’t.

Until next time …


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:


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