What a difference a year makes! This time last year, Auburn was going downhill after starting the season with five wins. A humiliating defeat against Arkansas in Fayetteville, followed by an embarrassing loss at home against Kentucky, exposed Gene Chizik's 2009 team for what it truly was.
When the curtains closed on the season, the 2009 team was very fortunate to walk away with a record of 8-5 and a bowl victory against Northwestern.
One year later and the Auburn Tigers have turned things around completely. Coincidentally, Auburn started this season the same way it did the last; and that is, with a record of 5-0. Games six and seven proved that things were going to be different in 2010. What is the "difference?"
After traveling to Lexington and escaping with a three-point road win against a very feisty Kentucky Wildcat team, Auburn crushed the hopes of an SEC West title for Arkansas when they outlasted the Razorbacks by scoring 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win by a score of 65-43.
The 108 points scored in the game broke an SEC record and the 65 points scored by Auburn broke a record for points scored against an SEC opponent. So what is the "difference?"
Whatever the difference may be, Auburn is being recognized nationally. They are now the talk of the town, the SEC, and the entire country. The "difference," most will say, is Cam Newton.
No disagreement by me. Just this week, Cam Newton was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for the third time. A day after he was honored as the weekly winner of the Walter Camp Award, Newton was also named the Davey O'Brien Award for quarterback of the week.
There is no doubt that Cam Newton should be very high on a lot of voter's list for the Heisman Trophy. Should he continue to put up very large numbers, he will be a strong candidate for the Heisman, even if the Auburn Tigers suffer a loss.
Cam Newton has made a big difference but the difference between the 2009 team and the 2010 is not the play of one man. No sir. No ma'am. Auburn has players on the defensive side of the ball who are accumulating awards as well.
Defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, has played beyond expectations and as a result, he has been duly rewarded. For his outstanding play against Arkansas, Fairley was honored as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Just like Newton, it was the third time that Fairley has received the award this year.
Nick Fairley made a career high eight tackles—five solo, three assisted—against Arkansas, including a tackle for a loss that came at a very critical time in the game. Leading the SEC with 13.5 tackles for a loss, Nick Fairley will certainly continue to be a major disruptive force on the football field.
Two decorated players: one on offense and one on defense. Doesn't that sound a lot like the talk that was going on across the state in Tuscaloosa last year? Well, anyway; back to the "difference."
Is the "difference" depth? With quality players who can fill in for the starters at any time, the coaches are now able to keep their key players fresh to make big plays late in the game.
And, if you haven't noticed, several players have been making big plays late in the game for the Tigers, which has certainly been the difference when it counted.
Linebacker, Josh Bynes, had two interceptions against Arkansas to help seal up the victory in the fourth quarter. Also in the fourth quarter, running back, Mike Dyer, was able to limp his way for 38 yards and a touchdown because the offensive line was fresh enough to clear a hole big enough for a truck.
Dyer hurt his knee in the weight room and was not able to start against Arkansas. Expect him to be back at 100 percent on Saturday for LSU.
After having meetings all week regarding the type of play that is expected from an Auburn running back, Mike Dyer received some unexpected advice from former Heisman Trophy winner, Bo Jackson.
"When he says something to you, you're like, 'Ok, that's what I've got to do.' I mean, it's Bo Jackson."
Auburn's offensive numbers speak for themselves but they would not be speaking that loudly f it were not for the guys in the trenches. Just four games ago, the offensive line received a scolding from head coach, Gene Chizik, and that certainly became part of "the difference."
The head coach did not sit his lineman down and give them a good tongue lashing. Instead, Coach Chizik targeted his offensive line with comments that he made to the media. The message he sent was received and from that time to this, you cannot ignore the large offensive numbers being put up by the Auburn Tigers.
The Auburn players know their offensive powerhouse can be knocked down. They know that some team out there, perhaps LSU, will throw kryptonite at Cam Newton in an effort to keep Auburn out of the end zone.
Coach Chizik is a humble man and he most often exercises humility when addressing the media about the team's recent success. It is rubbing off on the players and that my friends is the "difference."
"It's like Coach Chiz says, 'Don't drink the Kool-Aid,'"offensive lineman Mike Berry said. "The coaches have put a big emphasis on be humble rather than be humbled."
With a BCS rank of fourth, the Auburn Tigers have certainly reaped a lot from their recent success. They deserve every bit of it and more, but alas, do not forget that we are just past mid season. The offensive powerhouse led by Cam Newton can be stopped. The players know it and as result, they will approach all of their remaining games with humility.
Humility will keep them from drinking the Kool-Aid. Who knew? Humility just may be the "difference" between victory and loss.