You can see the signs around the Auburn baseball complex. One goal. One focus. One measure of success: Omaha.
If you follow Scott Duval (Auburn's director of baseball operations) on Twitter, you can see little hints of the tunnel vision in all of the team activities. From the guest speakers:
to the indoor hitting cages:
From the uniforms:
to the offices:
Those five letters, OMAHA, have dominated the conversation from the beginning of head coach Sunny Golloway's tenure at Auburn.
Auburn hasn't been to Omaha, where the national champion is crowned, since 1997. Golloway has no intention of it being that long again.
"That," Golloway says, "is our goal and will always be our goal."
What will it take for Auburn to make it Omaha? If there were a simple formula, then more teams would go ahead and pencil trips to Nebraska in June. For Auburn, it would mean a change in what has plagued the Tigers in the past.
One of the biggest issues with both John Pawlowski and Tom Slater's teams at Auburn was a lack on consistency on both the offense and the defense. It starts with the rotation. Developing a solid 1-3 and nurturing a midweek starter to fill that fourth role. In the past, Auburn would start with a set rotation, then one guy would begin to falter -- through injury or just ineffectiveness -- and it would transform the entire rotation into a hodgepodge, forcing the dread Johnny Wholestaff to rear his ugly head. This year, Auburn has the depth in starting pitching and enough middle relief guys to set a good 1 through 3 and let them pitch in and out of trouble, allowing them to learn and grow as the season progresses.
Pitching, more than offense, is the key to a good postseason team. I've seen more than enough teams that could destroy the ball during the season, but when postseason comes around and they maybe run into that one ace arm they have never seen before, they crumble and can't recover.
Auburn needs to find four guys who can easily go six or seven innings every outing and let the offensive opportunities come where they may.
2. Win the midweeks
The midweek games are what will make or break Auburn's RPI. The teams the Tigers are facing -- such as Alabama State, Kennesaw State, Copping State, etc. -- will probably have terrible RPIs, and a loss to any of them would put more and more pressure during the season to sweep weekend series.
More than the RPI, midweek games offer a chance to Auburn to catch up, record-wise, and not force as many must-win games just to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The amount of .500 baseball being played during John Palwoski's final seasons was astonishing, and winning just one or two more of the midweek games would have certainly alleviated some of that strain.
3. Don't get swept
The SEC Schedule this year isn't that daunting for Auburn. Sure, the Tigers get the usual murderer's row of Mississippi State, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas, which are all in the back half of the season. It really doesn't matter who they play in the SEC, Auburn is going to be going to be in a dogfight every weekend. The key is to just take at least one of these games. A sweep ticks that doomsday clock ever closer to zero.
4. Make a regional
This may seem obvious, but again, it's something Auburn hasn't done in four years. For the longest time, the "hump" for Auburn was just making the SEC Tournament. However, with the Hoover Hoedown expanding from eight to 12 teams, that is no longer a "goal" as much as it is a necessity. The new "hump" is making a regional. Does Auburn need to host? Not really. It would help to be at least a 2-seed and avoid trips to Tallahassee or Clemson or get shuttled off to the West Coast. An ideal 2-seed scenario would be to get paired with one of the NCAA's "showcase regionals": those odd B1G or northern host sites given to that magical underdog team that's had the breakthrough season and could help "expand the game" to these areas, so they are generously awarded a host. Think sites like Blacksburg, Bloomington, Gary, Norwich, Greenville, Ann Arbor, Cary and Conway.
5. Have a little bit of luck
Here's where I am a bit torn. The realist in me says Auburn has little shot to make it Omaha this season. I look up and down the lineup and I see question marks and holes and huge swaths of unknown. I see a first-year coach taking over for a guy who took Auburn to unprecedented heights in a short time frame, and then spent the following years ultimately treading water before finally sinking. I see a team that suffered its final loss last year to its most hated rival.
Then I experienced football at Auburn this year. With a roster full of question marks. With a first-year coach replacing a guy who hit extreme highs ... and pretty deep lows. An Auburn team that suffered a final loss of the season to Alabama the previous year.
I didn't believe in miracles going into football season. I believe in miracles now. War Damn.