By Jay Coulter
I was having lunch a few weeks back with a good friend of mine who happens to be a huge Alabama fan. We typically have polite discussions about both schools and always manage to get in some subtle jabs at each other.
He made a comment that has stuck with me since that day. He said that Auburn’s problem is they are too fixated on beating Alabama. He was referring to both the team and the Tiger fans.
"Auburn people have to move beyond beating Alabama," said my friend. "You all consider a season a success when you beat us. If Auburn’s ever going to become a perennial top 10 team, they are going to have to start viewing success as winning the SEC and not just beating Alabama every year."
My friend has a point.
And I believe it’s something that Tommy Tuberville has also recognized.
Auburn’s 23-20 win over Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl showed Auburn fans that he’s not going to rest on his laurels. The move to bring Troy’s Tony Franklin onboard was a bold one.
I’ve been watching college football for the better part of 39 years. I believe it’s safe to say that no team has ever junked an offense after 12 games and implemented such a radically different system and achieved such results.
Monday night’s win was remarkable. It wasn’t perfect. But it was pretty darn impressive. Say what you will about athletes being dumb. Auburn’s offensive unit did a masterful cram job getting ready for Clemson.
The numbers on offense were downright Playstation like. 90 plays. 423 yards of total offense. 24 first downs. 190 rushing yards. 233 passing yards.
"I can't remember the last time we had 90 snaps in a game," Tuberville said. "I got tired of watching it. I know they got tired of playing."
Speak for yourself coach. For most of us fans, we couldn’t get enough.
Clemson came into the game ranked sixth nationally in total defense. Installing a new offense in three weeks and using it to beat one of the top defenses in the country is akin to the United States beating the Soviets in hockey. It just doesn't happen often.
And let’s not forget about the defense. Just as big as the hiring of Franklin was the retaining of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp for another year.
Take away the long touchdown run by Clemson’s C.J. Spiller and the Tiger defense was nearly perfect. Pat Sims dominated the Clemson offensive line on the way to winning MVP honors.
In the end, the credit goes to this special senior class. This group wasn’t Auburn’s best or one of the more highly recruited classes in Tiger history. They came to the Plains at a time when the coaching situation was tenuous.
And to make matters worse, the school was being threatened with accreditation issues that made signing players even tougher. Despite it all, they’ll go down as the winningest group in Auburn history. They compiled 50 wins over the past five seasons. The seniors never lost to Alabama. They finish with a 4-1 bowl record.
Not bad at all.
As amazing as this is, the future looks even brighter. Auburn will be loaded next year. The Tigers return virtually every key starter. Kodi Burns took a big step forward in solidifying his hold on the starting quarterback job next season.
The home schedule will be favorable, but brutal at the same time. Auburn drops Florida from the schedule, but picks up Tennessee. It’s never easy in the SEC. And let’s not forget about the trip to Morgantown, West Virginia.
The bad news for my Alabama friend is that Auburn is moving forward. They are setting their sights higher. And something tells me they’ll get there.
It is indeed great to be an Auburn Tiger.