For these players and coaches to have so much to play for in this year's Iron Bowl is a wonderful thing because of the hard work they have put into making a strong comeback from last year's disappointing season. It is something that began back in the offseason during winter workouts and this group has steadily made progress since then.
This is a team that has surprised people all season long, although I am not sure "surprise" is the right word because this is a team that has handled every challenge it has faced except that one game in the rain at Baton Rouge. However, the way Coach Gus Malzahn's squad finished that night was the defining moment of the season. The Tigers refused to quit and made an inspired comeback. If they had gotten a break or two along the way the outcome might have been different, but I really liked the way they took control in the fourth quarter.
Since that trip to Baton Rouge the Tigers have continued to improve. I think that showed in the scores with exception of the Georgia game, although I?think how close that one ended up on the scoreboard was more of a result of the officiating crew than anything else. There were some calls that really hurt the Tigers. This Auburn team has generally been very good at avoiding penalties, turnovers and the kind of mistakes that can make the difference between winning and losing.
The first thing you've got to do to win a football game is not beat yourself and this week's opponent, Alabama, has the kind of team that will create turnovers and make you beat yourself if you're not focused and try to play outside of what you're capable of doing.
In my 32 years of being part of the Auburn Family, I can't think of a bigger regular season game than the one coming up on Saturday. I am really looking forward to seeing the Tigers play because I think they will be better against Alabama than at any other time of the season because of this group's history of improving game after game.
Playing at home with a team that doesn't make a lot mistakes and can match up with anybody in the country on special teams is a big plus for Coach Malzahn as he prepares his team for Saturday.
Throw in the factor that this Auburn team has a lot of productive players, plus a lot of heart, and there is so much to like about the 2013 Tigers.
To be quite frank with you, I had some great football teams, Terry Bowden had an undefeated team and Tommy Tuberville had an undefeated team, but none of those teams measured up to what this group here has done from a standpoint of coming from where they were last season to where they are now. In fact, I believe it is the biggest season-to-season turnaround in Auburn history.
That says a lot about these seniors, their teammates and the coaches leading this group. Coach Malzahn and his staff have just done an unbelievable job communicating and getting close to this football team and it shows in how they perform on Saturdays.
I will also give the fans credit, starting with the spring game. To have that many people come to A-Day shows you what the loyalty and spirit of the Auburn people are all about.
The tipoff to it would be to me that the Tigers were going to be a lot better than many people suspected happened this past summer when I was talking to Auburn's strength and conditioning coach, who told me how these kids bought into what he asked them to do. It has certainly shown up with how they played in their first 11 games of the season.
Nobody knows the outcome of game 12, but if I was going to take a team into a game as the underdog I would just as soon have this football team as any that I have seen at Auburn, including one I coached, and I can't make any stronger statement than that.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming.