During Auburn's six-game winning streak in the heart of last season, the Tigers were seemingly unbeatable. With a vicious defensive line pulling an anchor on the scoreboard and a steamrolling Kamryn Pettway racking up SEC-leading rushing marks, Auburn soared all the way up to the No. 9 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.
"I felt like at that time, we were playing as good as anyone in the country," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said on Thursday at SEC Media Days. "We had some key injuries late and kind of limped home. We felt like we had a real opportunity there and just didn't seize the moment."
This coming season, the Tigers return the most starters in the last 12 years on The Plains.
"In this league, there's nothing like experience," as Malzahn put it. "As the head coach of the Auburn Tigers, this is the first time I can say that we have quality depth in all areas."
Key holes have been filled and, with the energizing emergence of Jarrett Stidham, the quarterback fiasco appears to be a thing of the past. All that remained was the drive.
"The biggest thing that's standing out to me about this team is that they're hungry," Malzahn said. "They're hungry and they've got something to prove. The last time I felt this way was 2013."
Coach Gus' comparisons to the 2013 SEC Champion, national runner-up team continued into the scheduling category. Like 2013, Auburn will face off against bitter rivals Georgia and Alabama at home. Four years ago, those games ended with miracles. This season on the big stages, Malzahn will rely on leadership.
"We have strong leadership," Malzahn said. "There are the three guys that I brought today, [Tray Matthews, Braden Smith and Daniel Carlson] but we've got a lot of other strong leaders at home."
The Tigers lose two defensive superstars in Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, however Malzahn assured that the depth along the defensive line is sufficient as well, harping on Kevin Steele's elite expertise.
"Kevin Steele likes to mix it up," Malzahn said. "I really like where our defense is right now. We're really far ahead."
Although it's early, and Jarrett Stidham has yet to play a snap of SEC Football, it was difficult to curve the aura of confidence emitted by Malzahn concerning his high-flying playmakers.
"With that 2013 team, they went through a struggle the year before," Malzahn said. (Auburn went 3-9 and 0-8 in the SEC in 2012). "They were embarrassed. They wanted to redeem themselves. They had that edge to them that brought everybody together."
Then Malzahn got really fired up.
"We were close. We were playing as good of football as anybody for six games. We had some impact player injuries. It is what it is. We weren't happy with the way we finished. Those guys have that chip on their shoulder. We've got to redeem ourselves."