Everything’s a little different now, isn’t it? Time has dulled somewhat the sting of Starkville, but the puncture, the hole, remains.
We now have this weird predicament of likely not needing help to make the playoff, and yet needing assistance to repeat as SEC champions. Which is the higher prize—or the greater feat?
It’s time to look ahead, but—forgive me. The shock rendered me unmotivated to continue this series; so I’m behind, and to maintain the format—and believe me, I considering scrapping it—requires looking back a little.
Why We’re Not Going Back
Here’s some uncomfortable honesty. Our team played worse against Mississippi State than I thought them capable. So the answer to why we’re not going back is obvious: it’s at least possible for our team to look like, well, the way Mississippi State used to look most of the time.
It will only take one more such performance—or maybe just a performance half as bad—to preclude ourselves from the national championship game.
Why We Are Going Back
I’ve been feeling pretty positive the last few days; convinced Starkville was a true aberration. Writing the above paragraph has got me back in the funk. So I’m going with the emotion of this moment and will answer why we are going back thusly: we have Jeremy Johnson on our bench.
If we’ve all gone round and round sufficiently on why Malzahn didn’t play Johnson in the fourth quarter, I wasn’t paying attention. Let me say only this—when one more loss means the championship bid is over, Gus won’t make the same mistake a second time.
Who We’ll Meet When We Get There
Here’s a fun prediction. Cue up that Ol’ Baylor Line, cause the Bears will be in the playoff. On December 6 they’ll meet Kansas State in a battle of once-beaten Big XII contenders. Willie and the Cats will be a top-four ranked team by then, and when Baylor takes them down, the Bears will take their spot.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that these Tigers are alive. I feel confident we’ll be in the playoff. It’s the SEC championship I’m nervous about, because we don’t control that. State’s got to lose a couple. They’ll likely lose to Ole Miss, but, who else? Bama? I don’t know if bama’s man enough to beat State.
But I do believe Roc Thomas is man enough to make Steve Spurrier wish he was wearing Gamecock garnett.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor. He also writes about Auburn sports and the Auburn Family at heartofauburn.com.