With a 26-22 victory Saturday night at Tennessee, Auburn matched its win total from last season.
The voters in the college football polls finally have noticed.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) vaulted into the national polls after dispatching the Volunteers for their first road win of the season. After flying under the radar the first four weeks, Auburn jumped up to 17th in the Associated Press poll and 19th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll and Harris poll.
“At this point in time, it’s really somewhat insignificant because it doesn’t matter where you are now; it only matters where you are at the end of November and December,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said.
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“Obviously, we’re happy to get the recognition. I think our kids have worked really hard and our coaches have worked really hard. We’re happy to be where we’re at, and the higher the better. But, again, we don’t pay a lot of attention to that.”
It’s the first time the Tigers have been ranked since the Oct. 5 poll last year. They have appeared in the polls every year since 1999.
Auburn is one of four SEC teams ranked in the AP and coaches polls. Florida is No. 1, Alabama No. 3 and LSU No. 4 by the media and coaches. Mississippi is 16th in one and 20th in another.
South Carolina is ranked 25th in the AP poll, while Georgia dropped out of the rankings after falling to LSU at home Saturday for its second loss this season.
Chizik didn’t mention the team’s move up the polls to the players before or after Sunday’s practice. Many were unaware of the ranking until reporters told them during interviews.
When cornerback Walt McFadden heard, his face lit up. He asked, “We ranked?” Then he composed himself and tried to brush off his excitement.
“I guess it’s a good thing, but it really doesn’t matter to be ranked,” he said. “It’ll put a smile on our face, but we can’t let that get to our heads.”
It’s an attitude most of Auburn’s players tried to take Sunday.
“I try not to look at it that much,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “Because the more and more you look into it, the more and more you’re going to buy into it, and you might start to think you’re better than what you are and let up in practice.”
They know how fickle the rankings can be. Pollsters were slow to drop Auburn last year, mostly based on its reputation as a top-25 team for the better part of the decade.
The Tigers remained in the polls after an upset loss to Vanderbilt that precipitated offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s firing and dropped them to 4-2 on the season. Only after Arkansas won in Jordan-Hare Stadium did Auburn disappear from the polls altogether, not even making the others receiving votes category.
Despite their recent rise, the Tigers know one loss could quickly reverse their upward mobility.
“As soon as you go out there and have one bad game and everything else, they’ll be just as quick to drop you right back out of it,” Stevens said. “We just have to stay focused at practice and pretend like we’re not ranked still.”
The way Saturday’s game ended will help keep Auburn’s ego in check. The Tigers built a 23-6 lead but gave up 203 yards and 16 points to a woeful Volunteers offense in the fourth quarter, watching Tennessee score on the final play of the game when Jonathan Crompton completed a 32-yard pass to Denarius Moore.
“We’ve got to learn how to just put them out,” wide receiver Kodi Burns said. “Once you smell blood, you’ve just got to go for the throat.”