Some folks were anxious about Auburn’s game with Kansas State. The anxiety was warranted. I expected Auburn to win big; to score early and often. We did score pretty early—albeit a field goal—but we did nothing right on offense often.
So after asking if Auburn is going back to the national championship game after a game against an over-matched opponent, and then after a bye, we will now answer the question after a performance when the Tigers, who had scored 30+ points in 12 consecutive games, didn’t look like themselves.
Why We’re Not Going Back
We now know it’s possible for our offense to have a bad game. Your strong suit has to be reliable. You have to be able to lean on it—the way Auburn relied on Tre Mason in 2013—even when the opponent expects you to. Thursday night’s performance was Auburn’s lowest point total since 2012.
The team’s philosophy is set by the head coach. Gus Malzahn’s credo is to play up-tempo and score a lot of points. We can’t expect to play for the national championship if we’re not able to actualize that philosophy consistently.
Why We Are Going Back
The obvious counterpoint is that Auburn was able to win despite scoring only 20 points. But that’s not our reason why Auburn is going back this week. The defense will have to hold an SEC opponent or two to 14 points before we tout them as a championship-caliber strength.
We’re going back to the national championship game because our team found a way to win. It’s cliche, but Thursday night it’s how we won. Our receivers dropped a few perfect passes earlier, but when we had to have a first down to put the game to bed, Duke Williams caught a 39-yard pass from Nick Marshall.
Who We’ll Meet When We Get There
In previous weeks we’ve checked in on UCLA, Oregon and Florida State. We’re saving the other obvious contenders for later in the season; so let’s look at an unlikely candidate this week—the lowest ranked undefeated team in this week’s AP poll: Nebraska. Presumably the Cornhuskers will lose in two weeks at Michigan State, but if they don’t, who knows. The only other ranked team on their schedule is no. 19 Wisconsin.
The Bottom Line
Are we going back to the national championship game? The answer this week is Yes. Auburn showed at Manhattan they can still get a win even if things don’ t go as planned; even if their super power suffers a power outage. Furthermore, if the defensive performance against Kansas State proves a sign of things to come, who we’ll meet when we get to the championship game will be the only question.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor. He also writes about Auburn sports and the Auburn Family at heartofauburn.com.