AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s senior class came in as winners.
They’ve been working to get back there ever since. After going undefeated and capturing the national championship in 2010, the Tigers have had a long journey back. First was the 8-5 season in 2011. Then there was the horrid campaign of last year, when Auburn went 3-9 overall and didn’t win a single game in the SEC.
Even so, the Tigers’ seniors always had their sights set on returning to the BCS title game.
“That’s how we wanted to leave,” senior defensive back Ryan Smith said. “That was the goal throughout the summer. Now we’re to this point, man. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and some things to finish off.”
Nosa Eguae, another senior who was a member of the 2010 title squad, noted that the Tigers of three seasons ago had a strong group of experienced leaders. Not all of them were big names, he noted — Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc were two examples, he said — but that’s the same story with this year’s team.
“We’ve got a good group of seniors. It means a lot to us,” Eguae said. “The thing that is big is that the guys under us are playing for us and we’re playing for them. We’re just playing for each other. That’s what you want on a football team.”
Fellow senior lineman Dee Ford offered another similarity between the two teams: they find a way to emerge victorious in the most tenuous of circumstances.
“We win ugly — just like we did in 2010. We win very ugly, but we take it,” he said. “We weren’t able to do that at LSU, but I see this team just finding a way to win no matter what the circumstance — just like in 2010.”
But that’s where the Tigers believe the differences stop. Yes, both teams won close games. No finish in 2010 compares to some of the endings this season, though.
“In 2010, we had that drive to beat Kentucky,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “To have one or two plays, big-time scoring plays, over 50 yards? I’ve never seen anything like it before. Also the unusual play of the kick return, the missed field goal return. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s truly made not only the nation but the entire world look at us.”
And the world, Jonathon Mincy noted, is looking at the entire team. This stands in direct contrast to the 2010 season, when the only Tiger that people focused on was the all-everything Heisman winner, Cam Newton.
“Everybody on this team is really contributing in so many different (facets) you can say when it comes to offense and defense,” Mincy said. “Everybody is really working together, so when you say ‘Auburn,’ you don’t just look at one player. There’s so many players you can point out, and that’s something you can credit these coaches on.”
Even better, Mincy said, is that people seem to have such a favorable view of this year’s Tigers. Three years ago, the NCAA allegations that dogged Newton turned the entire country against Auburn.
Now, Mincy feels the Tigers have the backing of the nation thanks to its bounce-back season and myriad last-minute comebacks.
“It’s a great feeling to know we have so much support,” Mincy said. “Everything really falls back on these coaches just bringing everybody together and everybody who was in the Auburn family when we (weren’t) doing so good. We’re just appreciative of it and very grateful that we’re having people starting to put us in the spotlight and look at Auburn.”