If you want to know why fans in these parts obsess over the game of college football 365 days a year, let me present to you Saturday afternoon at Pat Dye Field as Exhibit A. What fans witnessed on this hot, humid afternoon epitomizes everything there is to love about the game and Auburn football.
On a day when Miss State and its fans arrived in swarms for its coronation into the SEC elite, Auburn and its band of no-names picked up its 17thstraight win. There are many storylines that went into producing Saturday’s outcome. You start with a team that has been disrespected more than any previous reigning national champion.
The nation’s writers chose to drop Auburn from its top 25 last week, something that hasn’t happened this early in the season since 1965. Despite losing only once in its last 10 meetings, odds-makers (including Danny Sheridan) made Auburn a touchdown underdog at home to the 17th ranked Bulldogs.
In full disclosure, who among us gave Auburn any chance after what happened in week one? I told a friend before the game that if Auburn beat Miss State it would perhaps be Gene Chizik’s best coaching job ever.
I stand by my statement today.
Is there a better week two story than backup safety Ryan Smith? We hear far too much about players taking money from boosters, getting in fights and other unsavory things. Give me more like Smith’s journey.
The sophomore all but disappeared from the Auburn team halfway through last season, missing Auburn’s run to a national title. After registering just three tackles, all on special teams, he ran afoul of Chizik’s rule book and was written off by most.
Smith battled back in the off-season, coming out of nowhere to claim the backup safety position. On Saturday he made the biggest play of his life and in the end, maybe Auburn’s biggest of the season when he stopped Miss State quarterback Chris Relf just inches short of the goal line as time expired.
Chizik couldn’t hide his pride when talking about Smith after the game.
“I’m not going to go into any details, but he has had some tough things happen in his life,” Chizik said. “He was able to stand up and make a play at the end. For me as the head coach, it makes me like a proud father. It was just awesome to see a young guy come through at the end of the game, ultimately for the win.”
Now this unlikely journey heads to Clemson, where in the coming days, Auburn will again be written off and made road underdogs. Arguments will be made that this is perhaps the worst 2-0 defensive unit in college football history.
That may be the case.
I get the feeling that something special is brewing with this team that stats and conventional wisdom can’t explain. A win Saturday against a more experienced Clemson team will likely mean a 4-0 start. That’s not bad for a group who was expected to win less than half their games.
I bet those guys from the 1972 Amazin’s are smiling today. They say history repeats itself. It’s much too early to say where this team is headed. But if heart and desire play any kind of role, I like Auburn’s chances. I can’t wait to see what happens this Saturday.
Auburn football sure is special.