Aubserver Mailbag 131: How much hype should Auburn really have for 2023?
This week: SEC Media Days, Nashville, last names, Highway 280, regional sodas and a certain Greek restaurant chain
RB Brian Battie (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
The media’s preseason All-SEC teams and projected order of finish in the conference will be released sometime today.
For the second year in a row, I don’t expect Auburn to get much love. The roster has a mix of veterans who mostly haven’t broken out to the elite levels of the league and relatively unproven newcomers. I would also bet that Auburn will be picked to finish either sixth or seventh in the final season of the SEC West divisional era.
I sent in my ballot on Thursday, right before I finished writing this mailbag. I didn’t have many Tigers on there — D.J. James and Oscar Chapman were the only ones I felt super strongly about — and I have Auburn exceeding expectations slightly with a fifth-place finish in the West. (I’m not high on Arkansas or Mississippi State this season.)
For some, that might seem crazy. For others, that might be what you expect, too. The preseason hype for Auburn among those inside the fan base has only gotten bigger as we’ve gotten closer to the season. In two weeks, fall camp will get the hype train rolling even faster.
This week’s mailbag opens with questions about hype and expectations. And, I don’t want to tell anyone what to think, because I’m just a dude who writes about football. I never played the sport competitively. There are a lot of people who know a lot more about this than I do. But I know this fan base pretty well, and I feel solidly about what’s going on with the program at the moment.
I also share my thoughts about SEC Media Days, Nashville, last names, Highway 280, regional sodas and a certain Greek restaurant chain.
Thanks as always for supporting The Auburn Observer. Let’s go.
I know the offseason is supposed to be a time to be positive, since things can just go downhill from here. But are people getting too hyped this off-season? ‘Cause it seems like we’re in danger hype mode. I don’t remember Malzahn hype, but I remember the Chizik arrival video.
I’m usually someone who tells fans to be as optimistic as you want during the offseason. Everyone is undefeated. Dream big. Imagine what things might look like if they all break correctly.
And I think (vocally) expecting things to go badly — or wanting them to go badly because you would be right, for whatever small amount that’s worth — is just a sad way of being a sports fan. If you’re getting zero enjoyment out of your team, take a break from them. Unless you want to be miserable, I guess. I feel like some people watch sports to have that sort of twisted outlet.
But I would caution against getting too hyped up that falling short of those goals feel like a disappointment.
As I wrote earlier this week, I was struck by how much the tone around Auburn at SEC Media Days was about the big-picture vision for the program. Yes, the 2023 season matters to a great degree, and there’s a record-breaking number of ticket sales to prove it. I also think a lot of this excitement is people just feeling good about having a head coach who a) actually prioritizes recruiting and b) knows the SEC.
However, I think fans need to remember that this team has had back-to-back losing seasons. It’s spent the last few years dealing with a slide in recruiting and a heavy amount of transfer out. The roster flip this offseason was much-needed, but it’s not like Auburn piled up a bunch of can’t-miss stars. A lot of these transfers haven’t played SEC football yet, and there are going to be times when that really shows.
What Hugh Freeze inherited for his Year 1 just isn’t the same as what Gus Malzahn or even Bryan Harsin had. Malzahn got to basically pick up where he had left off after a one-year bad blip of 2012. The roster was built on strong recruiting classes and was already very familiar with the playbook. And Harsin picked up a program that had plateaued at “solid bowl team” level, not “sub-.500” level.
You can go back even further than that. Tommy Tuberville inherited an Auburn team that flatlined in 1998 but had gone to the SEC title game a year earlier. Gene Chizik got a team that had a losing record in 2008 but won 20 games in 2006 and 2007. Terry Bowden went undefeated in 1993 with a program on probation but wasn’t too far removed from a string of championship seasons under Pat Dye. The situations just aren’t the same, and, as Freeze himself said this week, Auburn is just not at the level that it’s expected to be as a program.
It’s most likely going to take multiple seasons in order for Auburn to consistently compete with the best of the best in the SEC again. Plenty of recruiting and development — at levels where the Tigers haven’t operated at recently — will have to be done in order to have their rosters line up with the likes of Georgia and Alabama.
Auburn’s win total for the 2023 season in Vegas is still at 6.5. Just nailing down a winning record this fall will be progress. It might not be the level that some fans want, hope or expect, but the Tigers need to get back on track this season. And, right before the SEC and the College Football Playoff formats drastically change, this is a pretty good time to hit that reset button and build the foundation.
Could Auburn shock the world and go on a 2013-like run? Sure. Anything’s possible. If the new staff can work some instant-impact magic with the passing game and the Tigers get hot at the right time, all bets are off. After all, this is a year where Auburn has a favorable non-conference schedule and doesn’t have to go to either Athens or Tuscaloosa.
But what’s most likely going to happen is Auburn will have some growing pains on both sides of the ball and a brutal start to the SEC schedule. Grind through that and pick up some momentum with a more favorable second half, and you could see a bounce-back season on the Plains that sets the stage for bigger things down the road.
I know Auburn football doesn’t really do “boring,” but a straightforward season that ends with a bowl trip and noticeable improvement from the last couple of years would be successful. It’s probably going to take time to get this thing rolling at the right level.
If you want to get hyped and talk yourself into Auburn getting nine or 10 wins this fall, go right ahead. Be excited for your team. Just don’t get so bummed out if it doesn’t happen that you fail to see the progress that could still be taking place.
I've seen Auburn football picked from 5-7 to 9-3 this off-season. 8-4 feels about right to me... and I would love that. Care to give a game-by-game prediction at this point knowing we haven't seen a down of fall camp from anyone?