"It’d be great to retire from Georgia by beating Auburn four years in a row." — Nick Chubb, Georgia tailback
HOOVER | It all starts now.
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Auburn's turn through the Southeastern Conference Media Days phantasmagoria begins Thursday morning, which provides the first tangible step toward the Tigers' 2017 season. Sure, spring ball happened. Sure, players have been working hard in the weight room, watching film, using their down time to make a difference with a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Still, the moment Gus Malzahn takes the podium in Hoover means it's real. The season's almost here.
And this is going to be one hell of a season — one way or the other.
There are a few good reasons to believe Auburn will be better this fall, mostly the mere presence of quarterback Jarrett Stidham and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, and those reasons make Auburn look more appetizing to prognosticators. The hype is almost here.
Hype isn't reality. This will be a tell-tale season because Malzahn is under pressure. Auburn doesn't like to talk about it, but the truth is out there. Hidden behind the Sugar Bowl appearance was a generally disappointing 8-win season that will be remembered for the Clemson loss, the bizarre Wing-T dalliance (also known as "Cox Cat"), the mesmerizingly misunderstood injury to Sean White at Georgia and Kam Pettway leading the league in rushing.
Only one of those things is positive.
Malzahn has lost his last three games to Georgia. Malzahn has lost his last three games to Alabama. He's won three of his last 13 games against ranked opponents.
Optimism reigns supreme this time of year. Auburn will be a darling in the eyes of many reporters and coaches when the time comes to fill out preseason ballots in Hoover. This was a solid team in 2016 — stalled by an offense that lacked much in the way of passing — and now has filled its biggest personnel problem with the best available player. The Tigers have a reputation for being good every few years. Is it all coming together? A lot of people see it that way.
Malzahn sees it that way as well, though his logic probably doesn't match yours. He thought last year's team was better than 8-5. He thinks another round of bad injury luck with Sean White once again put the offense in a bind from which it could not extricate itself.
Hey, our quarterback is hurt. What can I do?
There's a long answer to that question. There's also a short one: Malzahn and former coordinator Rhett Lashlee are at fault for Auburn not having a proper Plan B behind (or Co-Plan A alongside) Sean White. A series of recruiting losses created that vacuum.