As the confetti fell inside the Georgia Dome last Saturday following Auburn's 59-42 win over Missouri at the Southeastern Conference championship game, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was marveling at how far the Tigers had come.
"We've gotten so much better, but we're still not where we need to be," Ford said. "That's the great thing. We're still not where we need to be, and we know we still have things to work on. We gave up 42 points. That's not our defense."
Auburn's next game will be against Florida State in the BCS championship game Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles routed Duke 45-7 several hours after Auburn won the SEC, so each team will have a 30-day window before playing again.
And, as college football has proven, a lot can happen in lengthy layoffs.
The most notable example occurred after the 2006 season, when No. 1 Ohio State had a 51-day break before facing No. 2 Florida, which had a 37-day gap, in the title game. The favored Buckeyes returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown but then fell flat, managing just 82 yards of offense in a humbling 41-14 loss to Urban Meyer's Gators.
"When you sit back and watch bowl teams play," Meyer said at a news conference as his 2008 Gators prepared for Oklahoma in the BCS title game, "you can see a lot of ball-security fails, a lot of penalties and very poor tackling,"
Ford and fellow defensive end Nosa Egaue and cornerback Chris Davis, the hero of this year's Iron Bowl, were freshmen in 2010 when the Tigers won the SEC and then had a 36-day layoff before facing Oregon for the BCS title. The Tigers defeated the Ducks 22-19, giving Auburn its first national championship since 1957.
Auburn first-year coach Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for the 2010 Tigers.
"I'd like to think that would definitely help," Malzahn said at a news conference this week when asked about the experience from three seasons ago. "I thought we had a pretty solid plan in 2010. Any time you have a month before you play, you've got to be strategic. You've got to rest them enough mentally and physically to keep them as fresh as you can, but you've also got to get your work done."
Malzahn also thinks having veteran players, albeit just a few, who have been through such a layoff could benefit the younger teammates.
"It's a very unique experience," he said. "The first time we went through it, I learned a lot, and I know a lot of our players learned a lot. It's not normal.
"It's not just the fact that it's 30 days. It's everything that goes with it with the spotlight on for 30 days. There is a lot that goes with it."
Former Florida State quarterback and current ESPN analyst Danny Kanell was a guest Thursday on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 "Press Row" show and said the top-ranked Seminoles should benefit most from the layoff.
"Florida State is a heavy favorite in this game -- I've seen it up to nine points -- but if this game was this Saturday, it would be a completely different ballgame," Kanell said. "Momentum plays a huge part in any sport, and Auburn is like a freight train right now in terms of looking unstoppable. Historically, this layoff slows down offenses, so I think Florida State will have some issues, and I think Auburn will, too, when you think about timing and everybody being on the same page.
"A lot of these national-title games start off a little bit sluggish and are a little low scoring in the first half because teams are feeling their way around after having all that time off."
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