(photo:Albert Cesare, oanow.com)
Auburn’s magical 2013 football season is now part of college football history. The team that few predicted to have a winning season came within 13 seconds of winning it all. To say the Tigers snuck up on some teams would be putting it mildly.
No one had picked Auburn to finish in the top 25 yet the Tigers went 12-1 on their way to an SEC Championship and berth in the Big Game. From disrespect to being picked as a top five or six team in the 2014 preseason is a phenomenal turn around.
In fact some think the Tigers may be the best team in the SEC. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is one of them. The Herbester said yesterday at the end of last year he felt like, “Auburn (was) going to be the team to beat in the SEC.” Kirk said, “I think they’re going to be as good, if not better, than a year ago … (and) be tough for anybody to beat.”
However, to prove that point, the Tigers will have to run the table on one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Most prognosticators have Auburn’s strength of schedule rated as one of the top five toughest schedules in the country.
Phil Steele has rated the Tigers’ schedule as the fifth toughest in college football while Yard Barker and ESPN.com both say Auburn plays the number one hardest schedule.
Auburn plays seven Top 25 teams and opens against SEC West foe, Arkansas. In addition, the Tigers will have to play Georgia in Athens this year and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Throw in a road trip to Big 12 power Kansas State, play LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State and the schedule is dauting enough. But then Auburn also has to play the two best teams in the East – Georgia and South Carolina. It’s easy to see how tough an assignment Gus Malzahn and his staff have cut out for them.
Incidentally, while this team is facing that kind of schedule, the other team from across the state has not had their pre-season strength of schedule rated above 61. But hey, if you know anything about Auburn’s past, they have always had one of the toughest schedules even before conference expansion. That’s why Pat Dye used to refer to the Tigers’ last three games as “Amen Corner.”
Nothing’s ever been easy for the Orange and Blue. And it won’t be easy in 2014.
Sure it’s going to be a difficult gauntlet to run. But as Herbstreit said yesterday, “As long as Nick Marshall’s there, and Gus Malzahn’s calling plays with a chip on his shoulder, they’re going to be tough for anybody to beat.”
I got to say it’s a rare moment that I find myself agreeing with anyone at ESPN. But In this case, I’m with Kirk … my money is on the Tigers.
Editor’s Note: Also of importance is the fact that Auburn is returning fourteen starters on offense including a veteran QB and a veteran offensive line. And even though Defensive End Carl Lawson will miss the first half of the season, the defense will have a deeper depth chart to augment the six returning starters.