AUBURN, Ala. — There was a discreet addition to Auburn’s campus during the first days of classes: Gameday traffic signs were posted.
In just two weeks, tens of thousands of fans will follow those signs, gathering in Jordan-Hare Stadium to watch Auburn take on No. 2 Clemson in the 2016 season opener. Until then — Gus Malzahn still has to name a starting quarterback — Auburn will concentrate on playing Dabo Swinney’s Tigers.
Auburn accomplished a great deal during preseason camp, but the focus mostly was internal. Freshmen were introduced to college football. Players were tested by intense heat and humidity and evaluated by position coaches. The Auburn staff began shaping their lineups. But players were growing impatient.
“You get tired of hitting people that’s really on your side,” sophomore defensive lineman Dontavius Russell said. “I’m just looking forward to getting a chance to play against somebody else.”
Auburn is directing its attention to its first opponent — a transition that has altered the team’s mindset.
“It’s urgency,” freshman running back Malik Miller said. “They are one of the top teams in the nation. They have some great players, great offense and defense, and they deserve everything they’ve done these past couple of years. They deserve it, but at the same time, it’s urgency. We’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder.”
Auburn is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season that ended with a 7-6 record and 2-6 in SEC play. Senior left guard Alex Kozan understands the expectations the national runners-up face, too.
Kozan was a member of Auburn’s 2013 team, which at the end of one of the most memorable college football seasons of all-time, lost to Florida State (34-31) in the final minutes of the last BCS title game.
“I remember that feeling in 2014 for us,” Kozan said. “So I know their mindset (for this year): They’re going to come in and execute. They want to win extremely badly. So for us, it’s going to come down to us executing, playing as a team and really executing in all three phases of the game. It’s going to take our best effort.”
It’s no secret that Deshaun Watson is a Heisman frontrunner or that Clemson is expected to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Still, that doesn’t intimidate Auburn — it excites the Tigers.
“We go up against some of the best players in the country every day at practice, but coming into Week 1, I think it’s good to play a team as good as Clemson,” Kozan said. “You need to be ready. I like going up against top competition Week 1 because it really tells you where your team’s at.”