Team of destiny win away from title
by Johnathan Bentley
Jan 05, 2014 | 1065 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LSU — that’s a loss. Texas A&M — that’s going to be another loss.

And you can add Georgia and Alabama to the list.

That was my take on Auburn’s football schedule before the season started.

I thought Ole Miss and Mississippi State would be the swing games between making bowl plans in Birmingham or Nashville.

My best-case-scenario for Auburn was an 8-4 regular season. It turns out that I got that first loss right, but was dead wrong on everything else.

Instead of prepping for the Music City Bowl, Auburn is eyeing the big prize in Pasadena.

Turns out that Gus Malzahn had one heck of a best-case-scenario in mind.

Without a doubt, Auburn has had some plays go its way. The Tigers got miraculous wins over both Georgia (43-38) — on a tipped, 67-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-18 play in the closing seconds — and Alabama (34-28) — on a 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown on the final play of the game.

Both plays were rated the No. 1 plays of the year on ESPN and they have been replayed on the DVRs of Auburn fans repeatedly for the last month.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons made between this year’s squad and the Tigers’ 2010 championship season. One big difference from the 2010 team is obviously Cam Newton, who was Auburn’s offensive leader with Michael Dyer also shouldering the load on the ground.

This year’s team is ground oriented with QB Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason eating up yardage at an outrageous pace.

The numbers aren’t much different now that Malzahn has returned.

The 2010 team averaged 41.2 points per game while this year’s team averages 40.1.

Defensively, there’s not much difference either. Auburn allowed 337 points in 14 games in 2010 compared to 312 points in 13 games so far this season.

Both teams, through the SEC Championship Game, played six games decided by eight points or less.

There were plenty of close calls in 2010 and in 2013.

The 2010 team needed a field goal on the final play of the game to get past Kentucky — yeah, I said Kentucky — and only a penalty kept Auburn from going to a second overtime against Clemson. Then there was the bounce back in Bryant-Denny. Auburn recorded its biggest comeback ever after rallying from a 24-0 deficit for a 28-27 victory over the Tide.

The 2010 team started the season ranked 22nd.

This year, Auburn didn’t get a vote in any preseason poll — most teams coming off a 3-9 record don’t — and the Tigers didn’t enter the rankings until Week 7.

Outside of the Georgia and Alabama games, Auburn had plenty of close calls.

To let you know how far this team has come, the Tigers had to hold off a pair of teams that finished 6-6 in the regular season.

Auburn was able to get past Washington State 31-24 in the opener and the Tigers got a touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining for a 24-20 win over Mississippi State in Week 3.

And both of those games were at home.

Auburn hit its stride after beating Texas A&M on the road in mid-October. Since then, everything has fallen the Tigers’ way.

Auburn got past Georgia, Alabama and Missouri and also had Michigan State upset Ohio State to clear the path for the most unlikely championship contender in the BCS era.

To appreciate this season, you have to realize just how bad Auburn was last year.

For instance, the Tigers scored a total of 224 points in 2012. They passed that total during the seventh game of the season this year.

Last year’s team rushed for 1,781 yards on the season. Tre Mason has 1,621 yards this season. He is also two touchdowns short of matching last year’s team total of 24.

The 2013 team has 3,150 more yards than last year’s offense.

No matter what happens on Monday, this has been a truly unforgettable season on the Plains.

The term “team of destiny” has been thrown around a lot heading into the BCS Championship Game. Maybe Auburn can exchange that phrase with BCS champion on Monday. It has a ring to it.

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Johnathan Bentley is the Sports Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at johnathan.bentley@mountaineagle.com.