Auburn Survives the Great Northwest-ern
As former Auburn Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp once so eloquently put it:
That's how Auburn and Northwestern broke in the New Year yesterday, setting a standard that the following decade (if you are one of those who think 2010 is the start of a new decade) of college football would do well to live up to. Time will tell.
In a game as wild as you will see anywhere, Auburn survived countless moments of self-destruction. Twice in the second half, Auburn had a fourteen point lead, only to squander its chances to put away the game and let Northwestern come back and tie the game up on both occasions and have a chance to win the game in regulation on the last snap of the game. Auburn deserves a bit of criticism for the way it managed the game at separate times, but the players also deserve more credit for the perseverance they showed. Twice in overtime they thought they had won the game, only for an official's flag or an official review to give Northwestern another lifeline. After one more miracle attempt from Northwestern, this time in the form of a fake field goal fumblerooskie, the game was over and Auburn wrapped up its 2009 season with an Outback Bowl victory and an 8-5 record.
So whoopty doo. What does it all mean?
In the long run, probably not a great deal. The trajectory of Auburn's program under Gene Chizik was never going to rest on a few hours spent in a Tampa drizzle. What this victory does is put an exclamation point on the groundwork that has already been laid for the future in the form of a solid (if at times uneven) 2009 season and what looks to be a phenomenal 2010 recruiting class. Bowl games are fun, and of course you want to win them (especially since 8-5 looks much better than 7-6), but aside from BCS Bowl Games, they act more as a bridge between the present and the future. Aside from BCS Title games, I'm not sure how often a bowl performance has really dictated the course of a program.
Mark Richt lost his first bowl game to Boston College and won the SEC Championship the very next year. Urban Meyer staved off a furious Iowa rally in his first bowl game after leading 31-7 for a narrow victory and won the National Championship a year later. Nick Saban jumped out on Colorado 27-0 his first year at Alabama and held on for a 30-24 victory. The next year, his team was playing in Atlanta for the SEC Championship a chance at a National Championship.
So for anybody who thought Auburn and Coach Chizik needed to win this game against Northwestern as some sort of validation or that the manner of the victory is indicative of anything (positive or negative) that will happen in the future; they merely do not understand college football. Outside of any BCS Bowl, a team's objective heading into a bowl game is to win for the seniors and get plenty of practice for the young guys as the team begins to cast its gaze towards the future. Often times, an emphasis is placed on the latter.
With that in mind, Auburn's trip to the Outback Bowl has to be considered a resounding success. A resilient senior class that has seen and been through much over the last four or five years got to cap off their time at Auburn a win and an eight win season, expounding on the solid foundation they had already laid in the first twelve games of the Gene Chizik Era.
So it's time to thank the seniors and start looking towards the future. No doubt, the coaches have already begun to put the younger guys through their paces to help them get ahead of the learning curve before Spring practice begins. In the coming weeks, I'll have a more in depth look at the 2010 Auburn Tigers. I'll also have a more direct analysis of Friday's game later on next week, talking about continuing trends from the regular season as well as new trends that were uncharacteristic of the team during the first twelve games. I'll glean what I can from them and discuss what, if any, bearing they will have on the future.
So please check back in the coming days. In the meantime, thanks for reading. War Eagle!