Dec. 8, 2013
Auburn celebrates as it officially learns it has made the BCS Championship Game (Todd Van Emst)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn is headed to the BCS Championship Game with an Auburn football team that he remembered Sunday has come a long way.
"I don't know if I've ever had a team come as far as we have," Malzahn said after the Tigers officially received their BCS invitation. "The very first game, we were an average-at-best team. We were a work in progress probably the first half of the season."
Second half of the season? Lightning in a bottle.
No. 2 Auburn, winners of nine straight games, will take a 12-1 record and an SEC championship to Pasadena to play No. 1 Florida State and its 13-0 record and its ACC title.
The Tigers watched the BCS announcement as a team, modestly cheered when it was clear Auburn had made the game, and then went about their business. There was no wild celebration, even after the remarkable turnaround season.
"It's been something to watch, it really has," Malzahn said. "To see them grow, see them come together, see them believe in each other, it's really been something to watch and be a part of. I'm just extremely proud of them."
Auburn won its SEC title when it beat Missouri 59-42 Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Did that elicit a few "booms" from Malzahn?
"Probably during the game, there were a few when we scored," he said. "I'm very proud of our team to see the smiles on our guys' faces."
Athletics Director Jay Jacobs was smiling, too.
"This has been a season for the ages," Jacobs said. "I could not be more proud of our student-athletes who turned Auburn football around through hard work, preparation and belief in each other.
"Coach Malzahn has truly been an inspirational leader."
Malzahn knows about this BCS thing. He was the Tigers' offensive coordinator when Auburn won the 2010 national championship in Glendale, Ariz.
"I'd like to think that would definitely help," Malzahn said. "I thought we had a solid plan in 2010. Any time you have a month before you play, you have to be strategic.
"You have to rest your guys enough mentally and physically, but keep them as fresh as you can and get your work done. I really felt good about our plan in 2010 and we'll be fairly similar to that."
Malzahn's short-term plan is to see running back Tre Mason win a spot in New York at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Mason rushed for 304 yards and four TDs in the SEC title game, and has 1,621 rushing yards for the season.
"He's one of the best players in college football. He proved that yesterday," Malzahn said. "You look at what he's done in this league, especially as of late against very good defenses and the way he runs."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine