It looks a little like Tiger Walk. A line of Auburn men make their way through a crowd of orange-and-blue faithful. But the stillness on the players' faces isn't the calm before the storm. These Tigers have come home without a trophy; without a championship that was unthinkable in August, but was 13 seconds away in January.
Their coach steps to the podium. He doesn't make excuses. He doesn't say he's satisfied. Instead, he tells his players, the Auburn Family and the college football world, "We're gonna go back!"
When I first heard Malzahn say we were going back to the national championship game, I thought he was saying: because of our philosophy and work ethic, we will sooner or later get another shot at the national championship.
As the weeks passed, I came to realize Malzahn was not talking about sooner or later. He was talking about 2014.
So we come to the 2014 season with high hopes. While Alabama is our rival, our true nemesis in modern history has been expectations. Think about years like 1984 and 2003. The expectations from outside the program aren't as high for 2014 as for those years, but for the Auburn Family the mission is clear—to overcome the pain of a needless loss in Pasadena with a big win in Arlington.
I know I don't speak for the entire Auburn Family with this national-championship-or-bust mentality. Expecting perfection is always a little ludicrous, and certainly risky, but that's my approach to this season.
In a series of posts titled Are We Going Back? I'll be analyzing our team's performance each week with that question in mind. Each post will be comprised of the following sections.
Why We're Not Going Back
We'll identify weaknesses in our performance that suggest we won't make it to the 2014 national championship game.
Why We Are Going Back
We'll highlight the strengths in our performance from each game that inspire hope of earning a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff.
Who We'll See When We Get There
Each post will also include an update on one of our potential opponents in the national championship game.
A season-long series based on the premise that Auburn will at least be in the mix to play for the national championship includes inherent risk—with maybe a touch of hyperneurotic barnerism. And that will be part of the fun. The series will always live on the edge of whether its existence makes any sense.
I hope you'll join me as each week we'll look at Auburn with an eye to Arlington. You can tell me how my reasons why we are or aren't going back to the championship game don't make any sense, or how the whole series is flawed. We can have it out in the comments, and at the end of the day we'll all be on the Gus Bus, headed west on I-20.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.