Auburn’s made its mistakes, and it’s living with them.
The Tigers didn’t want to be here. They didn’t want to be back at the drawing board in November. This isn’t how they envisioned their season ending, and this isn’t where they expected to be when some of the other teams they’ve played are gearing up for championship chases.
But this is where Auburn is, and, behind closed doors in a meeting in the athletics complex following a gut-wrenching loss to Georgia, the Tigers met and set a new goal: Win and get to 10.
Auburn’s bent on winning out, beating enemy Alabama, bringing a bowl trophy back to the Plains, and completing a 10-win season that could help launch returners into 2020.
That much is still on the table for 7-3 Auburn, which could pick up its eighth win this Saturday at 11 a.m. against Samford in Jordan-Hare Stadium, with opportunities in the Iron Bowl and in the postseason still to come.
“Coach came in here after the game and he was like, ‘I want us to win 10 games.’ That’s our new goal now,” Auburn junior corner Noah Igbinoghene said on Tuesday.
Auburn isn’t quitting. The schedule’s still in front of the team and, looming after this week’s tune-up with FCS Samford, the biggest game of the year still lies ahead in the Iron Bowl.
There’s nothing left for Auburn to do but win everything ahead.
“That’s what we’re focused on right now, just finishing off strong, not only for us, but for our seniors,” Igbinoghene said. “It’s going to be special, this game and the Alabama game — just finishing off strong for them. So that’s our new goal.”
Auburn’s only put together 14 such 10-win seasons in program history. That double-digit tally is a benchmark most elite programs shoot for.
“Now we’ll turn the page,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “Our goal now is to win 10 games, which is extremely hard to do with the schedule like we have. Our guys are putting it behind us,” he said of that loss to Georgia. “We’ve got Samford coming up.
“We’ll turn the page for Samford, and, looking forward to finishing this season in a positive way,” he added.
The loss to Georgia smacked away any outside chances Auburn had of making the College Football Playoff. Instead, other teams around the country are preparing to make their run at it, including an Oregon team that Auburn beat, an LSU team that Auburn gave all kinds of trouble to in a 3-point loss, and a Georgia team that Auburn put on the ropes when it was playing its best the fourth quarter last Saturday.
Auburn’s out of the committee’s conversation but with 10 wins, it could at least leave the season knowing it was one of the nation’s best teams just like the Tigers have thought themselves to be all along — and, of course, every Iron Bowl win is precious to all Auburn people everywhere.
Auburn’s recorded two 10-win seasons under Malzahn and this could be his third. No Auburn coach since Pat Dye has recorded more than two. Dye and Shug Jordan are the only coaches in Auburn history with more than two 10-win seasons to their credit.
Dye strung together four in seven-season span with 10-win seasons in 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1989.
Jordan’s were several years apart, with 10-win seasons in 1972 and 1974 coming well after the 10-win national championship season in 1957.
Malzahn’s first team as Auburn’s head coach finished 12-2 on its run to the BCS National Championship Game. His team in 2017 that won the SEC West finished 10-4.
As a coordinator, he was a part of Auburn’s 14-0 national championship season in 2010 under Gene Chizik, which followed Tommy Tuberville’s 13-0 season in 2004 and 11-2 season in 2006.