ATLANTA - Gus Malzahn said it. Said it after victory most sweet. And improbable. And unbelievable.
Observed the head football coach of the Auburn Tigers late Saturday evening, the coach of the new champs of the Southeastern Conference, the coach who was coaching Springdale High in Arkansas eight years ago:
"A lot of really good high school coaches haven't gotten the opportunities I have. I'm living the dream."
May Auburn never awaken from this dream, if that's what it is. A year ago the Tigers were 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the SEC and apparently going nowhere but downward under coach Gene Chizik, who somehow had guided the Tigers to the 2010 national championship with Malzahn by his side.
Now they're 12-1 under the Malgician following their 59-42 victory over Missouri in the SEC title game.
"They have a difficult scheme on offense," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said afterward. "We didn't play our best game, but they had a lot to do with that."
A difficult scheme? Auburn piled up 677 total yards and 545 rushing yards against a defense that entered this game ranked second in the SEC in both rushing and scoring defense. Albert Einstein couldn't solve this scheme. Maybe it's time to give championship high school coaches everywhere a chance.
"If you don't hit the right gaps," Pinkel said, "you're in trouble."
If every year forward under Malzahn is like this one, the rest of the SEC could be in trouble, even that crimson dynasty a couple of hours west of Auburn, the one in Tuscaloosa run by Lord Nick Saban that's won three of the last four national championships.
Should the Tigers play in this year's BCS championship game as expected, after Ohio State's loss Saturday night, they could even be the bread of a national championship sandwich with Bama - Auburn surrounding the Tide's twin titles in 2011 and 2012.
That would also mean the winner of the Iron Bowl would have won the last five BCS crowns. Somewhere in the clouds, former Tide coaching legend Bear Bryant and former Auburn coach Shug Jordan would be smiling at the same time for the first time ever.
Yet even the best of coaches need great players, though the Bear never coached a Heisman Trophy winner. Nevertheless, in 2013 it would be tough to find a better offensive player anywhere this morning than Auburn's Tre Mason, the compact junior who gained 304 yards on the ground against Mizzou, scored four touchdowns and became the Tigers' all-time single-season all-purpose-yards holder with 2,137. He shatters the old mark of one Vincent "Bo" Jackson, who totaled 1,859 in 1985.
"I think he deserves [the Heisman]," said Auburn QB Nick Marshall, who might be the preseason favorite next year if he can keep turning in the numbers he did against Mizzou, when he ran for 101 yards and one touchdown and hit 9 of 11 passes for 132 yards and another score. "I don't know of a better running back anywhere."
Reportedly whispered Bo, the 1985 Heisman winner who was on the AU sideline: "He's a bad man."
Nor does Mason show much false modesty on this subject, having struck a Heisman pose at one point in the game, then telling the media afterward, "This is a personal goal of mine. It was always a dream, you know, growing up, wanting to win the Heisman. I'm sure that every kid who plays football, that's one of their dreams."
Dreams. Every high school coach dreams of winning a national championship as a major college coach, or maybe the Super Bowl as an NFL coach. Every kid who plays football dreams of winning the Heisman. And once the final seconds flew away Saturday evening, and Auburn's journey from worst to first was official, the Tigers behaved like kids, rolling around in the SEC's blue, gold and white confetti, making snow angels and laughing.
"Sure, we're happy," said Auburn center Reese Dismukes. "Other than winning the Super Bowl or the national championship, this is the biggest championship you can win in football."
Almost certainly, he and his teammates will play for that national championship, although the BCS numbers won't become official until this evening. The new SEC champ will get a chance to deliver the league its eighth straight BCS crown.
"To see how far they've come, there's not a bigger thrill in the world," the Malgician said. "We've gotten better every week. We're playing our best football right now."
Right now. When it might matter most. When it could prove who's best.
"All I know," Mason is, "is that we've got the best coach in college football."
The Heisman hopeful running back is not bad, either.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org