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A spirit that is not afraid

COLUMN | This Auburn football season not a lost cause yet


<p>Nov. 13, 2021; Jarquez Hunter (27) against Mississippi State from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.</p>

Nov. 13, 2021; Jarquez Hunter (27) against Mississippi State from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

Auburn football received plenty of bad news this last week. From losing to an unranked Mississippi State at home, to receiving the news that starting quarterback Bo Nix is out for the year with a broken ankle, it has been a discouraging week for the Auburn program.

However, here are some reasons why Auburn fans should stay invested in this football season:

1.  The Iron Bowl is still looming

The biggest game of the year in the state of Alabama is coming to Jordan-Hare stadium in two Saturdays. Auburn might be out of playoff contention and maybe even conference title contention, but that does not diminish the significance of this game for both sides. Auburn has bragging rights on the line with its biggest rival and a chance to knock the Tide out of playoff talks.

I do not think I need to remind Auburn fans what occurred the last two times Alabama has come to Auburn, but I will anyway.

In 2017, the sixth-ranked Tigers came in as the underdog to the top-ranked Tide once again. It ended in Auburn fans storming the field in victory. Jarrett Stidham, Kerryon Johnson and the Auburn offense followed the defense’s lead in a 26-14 win to secure a spot in the SEC Championship game instead of Alabama. 

In 2019, No. 15 Auburn out-gunned the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide in a shootout, 48-45. Bo Nix showed out in a performance of a lifetime, Auburn returned two interceptions for six, and Shaun Shivers rocked Xavier McKinney and sent his helmet flying into the wind along with Alabama’s playoff hopes.

Who says it can't do it again? The Tigers have shown being the underdog does not intimidate them. Alabama has been ranked higher than Auburn going into every Iron Bowl since 2010. This is nothing new or unforeseen.

2.  This is the end of the beginning of the Harsin era 

These last two games wrap up the regular season of head coach Bryan Harsin’s opening campaign at Auburn. Coaching in the SEC comes with huge expectations, but let’s not forget that the first season for a head coach usually means a rebuilding year.

Auburn fans in recent years might have forgotten how difficult it is for new coaches to get the ball rolling. Gene Chizik won the National Championship in his second year as Auburn’s coach and Malzahn led it to the national title game in his first season in 2013. Not every coach has a Cam Newton or a dangerous triple option offense from the start, though.

Just to put this into perspective, let’s look at some of the most successful coaches in the SEC in their first season coaching at their respective programs. Kirby Smart went 8-5 in his first season at Georgia. Nick Saban went 7-6 in his first season at Alabama. Jimbo Fisher went 9-4 in his season at Texas A&M. Urban Meyer was 9-3 in his first season at Florida.

With two wins against South Carolina and Alabama to end the regular season, then a bowl game victory, Harsin has a chance to finish with nine wins. That is far from a disappointing start.

A strong end to the season will earn the respect of his returning players, and recruits will begin to buy into what Harsin brings to the table, especially if they shock the world with a defeat of the mighty Crimson Tide.

3.  Auburn has nothing to lose and a lot to play for 

The Tigers are eliminated from playoff contention, most likely out of conference championship hopes and without their starting quarterback for the rest of the season. 

While this is disappointing, it might not be a bad thing for Auburn. It means it can take more risks. The Tigers can be quicker to go for it on fourth down, blitz the quarterback, throw the deep ball and most importantly, play loose. 

An unranked team often gets overlooked. Low expectations yield some of the best performances from players because there is a sense of low risk and high reward.

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Everyone knows a 6-6 season is dramatically different from 8-4. Two conference wins are up for grabs. This team still has something to prove. 

Auburn also has the postseason to look forward to. The Tigers have already hit the six-win mark and have secured their spot in a bowl game. The team’s final record will determine their bowl game destination. 

I guarantee that Auburn’s loss last Saturday has left a bad taste in the mouths of the players and the coaching staff. A lot is still at stake, though, and Auburn is not ready to put this season in the past quite yet. Stay tuned and don't lose hope, Auburn fans. There are still two games remaining on the schedule.

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