AUBURN, Ala. -- Except for a few meetings and a walkthrough this morning, the on-campus portion of Auburn’s BCS title game preparation is over.
Now coach Gene Chizik wants to make sure his Tigers’ heads are in the right place before they fly out to Glendale, Ariz., today.
“It’s a unique environment and I just don’t want there to be any surprises,” he said. “We’ve got one goal in mind. And I want them to step off that plane and understand that this is a business trip.”
The Tigers arrive at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport around 7:15 ET tonight, one week before they take on Oregon for the national championship.
Starting Tuesday, Auburn has five practices at Scottsdale Community College, which will be more than just a dress rehearsal.
“It’s game week,” Chizik said. “It’s game week until we play. It’s no different than any other time during the season for us.”
Auburn has at least one less distraction on its trip. Maryland, which reportedly interviewed offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn about its head coaching vacancy a week and a half ago, hired Connecticut’s Randy Edsall to replace Ralph Friedgen.
Edsall officially accepted the job less than 24 hours after UConn’s 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Malzahn has been a hot commodity this offseason, turning down a lucrative head coaching offer from Vanderbilt last month and getting an extension from Auburn that will pay him around $1.3 million annually. It makes him the highest paid assistant coaches at a public university.
He never publicly commented specifically about the Maryland job.
“Right now, my only focus is helping us win a national championship,” he said Friday. “I’m not going to let anything distract or get in my way of us doing that.”
Auburn instead kept the focus on the field, going in shells during Sunday night’s practice under the lights at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers had spent all of their previous practices at the school’s soccer complex, displaced from their usual fields because of construction on the new indoor football facility.
“Just a change of pace that I thought we needed and just trying to mix it up and keep things a little different,” Chizik said. “But they enjoyed practicing in there, so we had a good practice.”
Chizik said the team is “as good as we could be sitting” health-wise, but he still didn’t tip his hand about who might not make the trip for academic reasons, reverting to an oft-repeated quote Sunday night.
“Like I said, if the roster changes with anybody, I will certainly let you know,” he told reporters, declining to say when.
After nine practices in 17 days, Chizik thinks Auburn is in the right frame of mind heading to Arizona.
“I think our team expects to go in there and play well,” he said. “They’ve practiced well, they’ve prepared well and we’ve got to go out there and do it on the 10th.
“I think there’s a lot of people who will be disappointed if we don’t.”