The No. 7 Auburn Tigers officially served notice to the SEC and college football world on Saturday they are legitimate contenders in 2019.
Sure, it’s only Week 5, but the Tigers’ demolition of Mississippi State, 56-23, raised a lot of eyebrows across the nation.
Does it mean Auburn is now the favorite to win the SEC or national championship? Of course not. There are still miles to travel and several seemingly impassable roadblocks on the horizon.
In fact, the Tigers will have to navigate through a Gator-infested Swamp this weekend just to maintain their lofty ranking. Did I mention Florida was the No. 10 team in the country?
Like I said, miles to go and this is merely the first roadblock along the way.
Auburn is off to its first 5-0 start since 2014 and the offense had a breakout performance against Mississippi State much like I talked about in my column two weeks ago.
Bo Nix looked calm, cool and collected throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns. He continues to get more comfortable with the speed of the game and his chemistry with the wide receivers gets better every week.
I often hear coaches say it’s impossible to really compare teams from year to year. It could be the exact same roster, but for whatever reason each team is unique in a given year. Each one takes on its own characteristics and travel its own path. I’ve heard coaches at all levels say that 100 times.
I’m sure you’ve heard the exact same thing and, yet, we all inevitably try to compare current teams to seasons of the past. I do it all the time.
I’ve already heard other people say this Auburn team resembles several other Gus Malzahn teams in recent years. Some have made comparisons to 2010, 2013 and 2017.
The Tigers certainly started those seasons, slowly winning close games against decent teams, but got better and better as the year went along. The offense started to explode about midseason and it carried all three teams to Atlanta to play for an SEC championship. An early loss to LSU in 2013 and an early loss to Clemson in 2017 ultimately helped those two teams get better.
While similarities abound, there are plenty of differences between 2019 and past seasons as well. It’s probably foolish to make comparisons from one year to another, but it’s fun and it tends to generate conversation. However, I think this 2019 Auburn team is different than any previous squad under Gus Malzahn for one big reason.
In 2010, Gus Malzahn was calling the plays and had one of the most phenomenal college football players ever to put on a uniform in Cam Newton. To his credit, Malzahn molded his offense to Newton’s strengths and created an unstoppable force. While excellent against the run (No. 9), the Auburn defense was ranked No. 60 in the country overall and No. 76 against the pass.
In 2013, Gus Malzahn was calling plays and produced another unstoppable offense with another great athlete at quarterback. The Auburn defense ranked No. 86 in the country overall.
Malzahn called the plays in 2014 and, again, the offense was tremendous. The defense ranked No. 64 overall and No. 67 against the run.
The 2019 Auburn defense is now ranked No. 33 in the country overall and No. 20 against the run.
This is the first time Gus Malzahn has ever even had a good defense while calling plays at Auburn University, much less a dominant one.