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Are We Going Back? Vol. 7–1

Each week contributor Josh Dowdy will look at Auburn's performance and ask the question, Are we going back to the national championship game?

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Championship seasons usually include wins like the one Auburn got in Oxford. Fewer mistakes at the beginning, and we might have won comfortably. Better play at the end, and we at least could’ve breathed easy in the final minutes. But we played well enough to win; well enough to keep us hoping for Arlington.

Are we going back to the national championship game? I’m glad we’ve made it to November and the question is still worth asking. Here’s some thoughts on our potential January destination with four games left on Auburn’s schedule.

Why We’re Not Going Back

A championship team must have a sense of identity. In earlier posts we’ve discussed Auburn’s tendency to be up-and-down, and how that can be OK so long as we’re up at the right times. But another aspect of identity is knowing what you do best when you need it most.

We had two opportunities in the final six minutes of the Ole Miss game to run out the clock. In failing to do so, we looked as though we didn’t know who we are. Yes, if Marshall had thrown a better screen pass to Corey Grant, we might’ve called it a signature chess move. But we punted, and I wonder if we’ll see any more screen passes on 3rd-and-2 in 2014.

Why We Are Going Back

In recent week’s we’ve heard increasing calls for Roc Thomas to get the ball, and we’ve also heard suggestions from Malzahn that he would. But this week’s reason we are returning to the national championship game is Cameron Artis-Payne. CAP will go over 1,000 yards on the season against A&M. His reliability will continue to open up the field for our receivers to burn our opponents when they expect it least. That’s got to be a big part of our identity in these last seven games.

Who We’ll Meet When We Get There

TCU is a hot topic this week. They won’t be next week, after they lose to Kansas State Saturday. In a previous post I said Baylor would beat Kansas State in their regular season finale. I’m ready to change that position. Kansas State appears to be Big 12 tough. Their only loss is to the best team in the country. That was a pretty good game. I think we’ll play better in the rematch.

The Bottom Line

Yes. Auburn is going back to the national championship game. As long as this team solidifies its sense of identity, and maintains focus, we’ll win these next five or six games, and then play in Arlington.

If we hit A&M hard at the beginning, they’ll lay down. Georgia will give us the ol’ college try, but the team with more to play for will come out on top. I think we’ve now seen our nearest death-defying escape of the season, although it will again take 60 minutes to beat Alabama.

Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor. He also writes about Auburn sports and the Auburn Family at heartofauburn.com.