published Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Roaring back: Auburn rebounds from a disastrous 2012 with 10-win season

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    Auburn is 10-1 and ranked No. 4 under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn entering Saturday’s home game against No. 1 Alabama.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TIGER TURNAROUNDS

Each of Auburn's last five football coaches did not need long to improve the program drastically:

PAT DYE -- Took over a 5-6 team in 1980 and went 5-6 in '81, 9-3 in '82 and 11-1 (SEC champions) in '83.

TERRY BOWDEN -- Took over a 5-5-1 team in 1992 and went 11-0 in '93 and 9-1-1 in '94 (had 20-game win streak).

TOMMY TUBERVILLE -- Took over a 3-8 team in 1998 and went 5-6 in '99 and 9-4 (SEC West champs) in 2000.

GENE CHIZIK -- Took over a 5-7 team in 2008 and went 8-5 in '09 and 14-0 (SEC and BCS champions) in '10.

GUS MALZAHN -- Took over 3-9 team in 2012 and is 10-1 heading into Saturday's game against Alabama.

Saturday's football game between Alabama and Auburn has a lot at stake, from state bragging rights to the Southeastern Conference West Division championship to remaining in the hunt for the national title.

It will have less of an impact on the perception of Auburn's season, which will be viewed as amazing or beyond amazing depending on the outcome.

"We don't want to take this moment for granted," Tigers defensive end Dee Ford said at Tuesday's weekly news conference. "We definitely have an opportunity, and everything is falling into place. All we have to do is keep continuing what we've been doing."

A win by the No. 4 Tigers over the No. 1 Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium would wrap up a 7-1 SEC season and an 11-1 regular season. Auburn is not foreign to those kinds of records, capturing the national championship just three years ago with a 14-0 mark, but never have the Tigers been so stout after being so atrocious the season before.

This time last year, the Tigers carried a 3-8 overall record and an 0-7 league mark into the Iron Bowl, where they were promptly thrashed 49-0 by an Alabama team that scored on its first seven possessions before emptying the benches. One day after that bludgeoning, Auburn coach Gene Chizik was fired.

Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator on Auburn's 2010 title team, was hired to pick up the pieces, but this hasn't been the week for him to reflect on the greatest turnaround in program history.

"There's not time," Malzahn said. "Like I've told our players, we've got a job to do. We will pat ourselves on the back at the end of the year and we will see what happens, but we can't let anything distract us.

"You can't let your mind go there. You have a job to do, and we have a huge game. We need to do exactly what we have done to get us here. That has been our approach."

At worst, Auburn will finish 10-2, with most projections having the Tigers going to the Sugar Bowl should they lose Saturday. This for a program that was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West and did not receive a single vote in the Associated Press top 25 until its 3-0 start.

Auburn's struggles last season were mostly due to Chizik's desire for an offensive shift from Malzahn's spread to more of a pro-style attack and the lack of a quarterback to make that happen. The Tigers endured their worst season in 60 years despite having Rivals.com top-10 recruiting classes from 2010 to '12.

"Auburn has a lot of returning starters on their team and a lot of experienced players," Alabama coach Nick Saban pointed out at his news conference Monday.

Combine those returning players with the return of Malzahn's up-tempo spread and junior-college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall, who averages nearly 100 rushing yards a game on an offense averaging more than 320 yards on the ground, and Auburn has its success story.

A success story similar to 2010, when Cam Newton was the quarterback arriving from junior college. Malzahn was asked Tuesday about the similarities of those two teams.

"Probably the focus and their ability to find ways to win at the end of the game," he said. "That's been something that I have been very impressed with about our team. They have found different ways to win. Sometimes it's our offense, and sometimes it's our defense or special teams.

"In the close games, they've won in some real pressure moments."

Oddsmakers believe Saturday's game may not be close. Alabama has been a 10.5-point favorite most of the week, saddling the Tigers as double-digit underdogs for only the second time this season.

The Tigers were 17.5-point underdogs at LSU in September, when they lost their only game, 35-21.

"In the offseason, we were pretty much fueled by doubt," said junior tailback Tre Mason, who has rushed for 1,153 yards. "We've been fueled by doubt all season. A lot of guys are fired up, and we like being the underdog."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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