You were braced for the worst. That began after the Louisville game, if you're being honest with yourself, but it was certainly true after Auburn escaped the best FCS team in America one week ago. So now you can exhale; Auburn lost a football game. Early. In a season that was supposed to be filled with promises of BCS National Championships and Heisman trophies. And the way you remember it, Auburn fan born before 1990, you're not supposed to be able to lose a game and have a chance at a national championship. There's no margin for error. Auburn was perfect in 1993 and again in 2004 and those teams had nothing to show for it. So losing an early season game against a great football team with what may prove to be the best running back in college football won't cut it.
- Or will it? Auburn may not be very good right now. They probably aren't. Jeremy Johnson isn't. But the best team in the SEC will be in the College Football Playoff. LSU can (and will) be beaten. In 2013, Auburn was beaten by LSU and found a way to win the conference championship and play for a national championship. So no, this isn't the aftermath of the 2012 Arkansas game. Yet.
- Why isn't it? It's not the aftermath of the 2012 Arkansas game because Gus Malzahn hasn't lost this team. Nothing feels in disarray. And this team didn't quit on Saturday. They got their ass beaten, but they didn't quit.
Often, in the 2012 LSU game, I feared for the safety of Auburn's players. And yeah, Tray Matthews looked foolish on that Leonard Fournette run and Rudy Ford did the same, which made more headlines because he had the audacity to be confident in his team's ability to defend Fournette, but they didn't QUIT. And that was the best thing that I saw on Saturday. This team hasn't quit.
That 2012 QUIT.
Maybe this team WILL quit. Next week's game against Mississippi State finds Auburn in the position it was in before that 2012 contest against Arkansas. They're down. How will they respond? I see no reason to give up on them until they've given up on themselves.
This defense is HURT. This quarterback isn't very good. This offensive line isn't as good as we thought it would be. But this team hasn't quit.
- Why not pull Jeremy Johnson? Just give Sean White a series and see! Can't hurt! No, it can hurt. Yes, you can switch up a running back or a wide receiver or a kick returner with little repercussion. Ignite a fire under the starter. But this is supposed to be Jeremy Johnson's team. He's almost out of confidence. He can't figure out if he needs gloves or if he doesn't need gloves. He throws a lot of interceptions. He can't run the read option (except that one time that he kind of did and it looked amazing).
But when you've given the keys to the 2015 season to someone so very clearly, when you pull him, you are conceding the season. That time may still come, but Coach Malzahn isn't ready to give up on this season. Jeremy's teammates aren't ready to give up on this season. And I'm not. And maybe Sean White comes in and looks phenomenal. You know who else filled in at quarterback once and looked phenomenal? Jeremy Johnson.
There isn't a quarterback controversy right now because Gus Malzahn named his man and stuck with his man. He could have been flaky about it like Nick Saban, which would have given him the ability to make the move. But he wasn't. And that isn't a knock on Saban's decision, it's an appreciation for both men choosing their own way to do it and sticking to it.
- The narrative. 2009-2013, in the state of Alabama and in the state of Auburn was once in a lifetime. Absolutely unprecedented, remarkable, astounding and unbelievable. And I think we all, on both sides of this state, took that for granted. You live in the moment. Your expectations grow. But you never take a moment to realize: I am actively watching something that will probably never happen again.
I think, maybe, we realized what we were watching when we were watching Bo Jackson. Maybe even Cam Newton. And outside of Auburn, maybe Michael Jordan, maybe the Miracle on Ice, maybe Stanford/Cal. And to the latter degree, I think we knew what we were watching when we saw the Kick Six and the season's other miracle, which was replicated in a less important game situation by Ole Miss on Saturday.
But I don't think we ever knew the ENTIRETY of what we were watching. I don't think we wrapped our head around two teams from the same state, a state that lags in everything, swapping college football championships for half a decade.
I was born in 1982. For the first 27 years of my life, those two teams combined for one legit national title opportunity. Two of the 15 winningest programs of all time. One national title shot between them over 27 years.
And for five years, the entire sport was ours. Maybe it just isn't anymore. That can be okay. Or maybe it still is, but I think it's clear that the grip isn't as strong as it was when Ole Miss is considered one of the best teams in the nation.
For like five years, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were swapping hit records. But you know what happened? One day the Eagles or the Doors or something else awful became the cool thing. And that was just fine for all of those people that liked the Eagles or the Doors. Boring people need entertainment, too. Maybe one day in the distant future, some 14-year-old kid gets a a black light Ole Miss poster at Spencer's Gifts and gets way into Chad Kelly. "This guy SPEAKS to me, man," he'll tell his other friends at local Magic: The Gathering tournaments. But then, one day, he'll go to college and a friend will burn him a copy of "The Kick Six" and he'll realize what the real classics were.
Or idk. Maybe we could just all root for Jacksonville State. It would be what's best for the state.
- One thing remains clear. Auburn's scoreboard is big as hell. And it's undefeated. And it can stay that way against Dan Mullen on Saturday. And you'll feel much better in a hurry when they're 3-1 with San Jose State, a bye and Kentucky on that horizon.