Everyone seems to think that Auburn will be long shots in 2012, afterthoughts that win seven or eight games and guys that would be lucky to get a New Year's Eve bowl. Everyone except the Auburn faithful and the players themselves.
That's okay. It feels better to beat an arrogant team that thought they drew a free pass with the Tigers.
Auburn's big opponents are marking their 2012 calenders for anyone but Auburn. Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, maybe even Texas A&M are all likely writing Auburn off.
Alabama isn't—Nick Saban and the Tide know that Auburn shows up for war. The team and fans may still look down at Auburn, but they know the Iron Bowl is a fight. Even if one of the teams has 11 losses, it will be a battle. But that's a different story.
In 2010 Auburn was coming off of an 8-5 season. Not a bad record, but unacceptable for a storied program with a reputation for winning—and a national championship snub in 2004 by a team that was, for lack of a better word, cheating.
Then Cam Newton came out of nowhere and the Tigers took the nation by storm en route to an undisputed, undefeated national championship season.
Some still claim that the Tigers were nothing without Newton, as displayed by another five loss season in 2011. I think that is partially true, but mostly garbage.
Without Cam Newton at the helm Auburn likely wouldn't have won the national championship, true. Let's be realistic here.
Who other than Cam Newton could lead the Tigers to hang 65 points on Arkansas, a quality SEC team? Who else could lead a historic comeback against the Crimson Tide? Let's not even get into how Auburn embarrassed South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game.
But even without Newton, the 2010 squad would have been BCS bowl caliber. The defense was excellent and underrated, and they displayed that when they held the vaunted Oregon offense—who ran over everyone but a dishonest Cal team that faked injuries to stop the clock—to a mere 19 points. Heisman hopeful Oregon running back LaMichael James could only manage 49 yards against Nick Fairley and Co.
Back then head coach Gene Chizik was working with Tommy Tuberville recruits, and some say Chizik owes his success to Tuberville. That's a foolish argument. Chizik has out-recruited Tuberville by a pretty good margin, as displayed by Rivals, and developed Tuberville's recruits as well as anyone in the nation.
It was Chizik that landed Newton, and it had nothing to do with dollar signs. I'm convinced it was the fact that Newton was licking his chops at the prospect of playing behind a killer offensive line. That and Auburn is quite appealing, despite what 'Bama fans say about "that cow college."
It was Chizik that nabbed Michael Dyer and Philip Lutzenkirchen. All three were ultimately important to the team. It was also Chizik who developed Onterio McCalebb into a dangerous X-factor threat.
Chizik also just happens to be the guy that made a first-round NFL Draft pick out of Nick Fairley, a guy that warmed the bench under Tuberville.
Auburn may not have a guy like Newton next year, but how often is sliced bread reinvented? Players like Newton come along once every couple decades. Just look at the rookie records Newton shredded in the NFL this year.
Auburn doesn't need a guy like that. They are great to have, but there was no Cam Newton when Auburn built an all-time winning record against the SEC.
What Auburn does have is an army of underclassmen that were battle tested in a trial by fire in a grueling 2011 SEC schedule.
Two of the teams they lost to are playing for the national championship—Alabama and LSU. Another won the ACC Championship—Clemson. Arkansas and Georgia weren't eligible for a BCS bowl due to the two team limit, but they were both outstanding teams, and Georgia went to the SEC Championship.
They also have a young man named Corey Lemonier who just happens to be on a path to completely outshine Fairley, as well as Kiehl Frazier who, quite frankly, looks like a little Cam Newton who needs a little more time to develop.
"Young team" is a name Auburn fans cling to while the critics scoff at the term, claiming it's just an excuse for the losses. That's okay. Auburn players and fans know they can capitalize on the underdog role. "Keep on thinking that," they say.
Come game time, those teams overlooking Auburn will be found wanting. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
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