Offseason verbal roses are fabulous until that thorny issue of delivering results follows in the fall. Praise directed at the Plains grew louder in recent weeks, and we’ve hardly seen the most recent season’s carcass turn cold.
Auburn is on the rise for 2017, believers say.
The Gus Bus will roll!
Jarrett Stidham will be a savior behind center!
The Tigers will roar like it’s 2013!
Savor the succulence, Auburn fans. Sunshine should remain throughout the spring and summer. Those prepping for the next roll at Toomer’s Corner can form a goose bump or two, because the coming months for the Tigers will be a time for delightful dreams.
But here’s a bit of vinegar after all the recent sugar: Beware of Auburn’s offseason hype.
The reality is, most of the optimism about the 2017 Tigers is based on assumptions that could collapse.
How do we know Auburn’s new offensive coordinator will work out after Rhett Lashlee hightailed it to Connecticut? How do we know Stidham will be as good as advertised? And how do we know the defense will match its solid 2016 effort that allowed the Tigers to clinch a Sugar Bowl berth?
We don’t. And that’s why it’s wise to use caution when considering Auburn’s potential.
Reality isn’t realized in January
For Gus Malzahn’s team, the possibility for “bust” to beat “boom” is there.
Many pundits forgot that tricky little detail. They treat Stidham’s arrival like the key that will unlock a treasure chest full of jewels — possible SEC West contention and a run toward the College Football Playoff — for all people of the Plains to enjoy. They look at Auburn’s 8-5 season, see a team that finished last in the SEC in passing offense (169.5 yards per game) and view Stidham, a former Baylor quarterback, as the elixir that will cure all the Tigers’ ills.
They assume Stidham will build on a 2015 season in which he threw for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. They embrace him as The Answer.
Sure, it’s easy for talk to become intoxicating. After all, Auburn’s 2016 running game was a road grader on turf, averaging an SEC-best 271.31 yards per game. Kamryn Pettway, the SEC’s fifth-leading rusher, returns after totaling 1,224 yards with 7 touchdowns. Plus, the Tigers finished third in the SEC in rush defense and fourth in scoring defense. Auburn can pop out on paper.
But it’s possible for winter and spring jubilation to become nightmares by November in a blur.
The lesson: Collecting offseason compliments like they’re poker chips is great as long as they’re cashed in when it counts. If not, there’s a debt to pay.
As the wind blows: gushing or grousing about Gus
All this brings us back to Malzahn. Hot-seat chatter is a tired topic at Auburn. But it’s hard to imagine that the recent optimism and the buzz to come won’t affect the coach’s standing in some way.
If he wins in 2017, Malzahn will look like a marvelous, gum-chewing magician once more. The Stidham coup will be viewed as one of the offseason’s largest wins, and the SEC will have gained a needed challenger for Alabama. Toilet paper will fly off the shelves around Auburn faster than Hatchimals at a Toys “R” Us on Black Friday.
But if Malzahn’s doesn’t win at least nine games — if he whiffs after all the wonder — he’ll face a huge, humbling setback.
A letdown is possible. Malzahn’s men have been shaky after that 2013 magic carpet ride led War Eagle to the BCS Championship Game. A 23-16 combined record the past three seasons doesn’t buy anyone the benefit of the doubt, especially not with a program hoping to thrive within the SEC’s strongest division. So much must go right for the Tigers’ 2017 season to be labeled a success.
For now, Auburn can enjoy the offseason warmth. But eventually, the cold reality of proving the promise on the field sets in.