The Auburn Tigers were one of the biggest surprises in the country last season. Coming off of a 3-9 campaign in 2012, which resulted in the firing of Gene Chizik, there were literally not great expectations for Auburn in 2013.
Former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was brought in to be the head coach of the Tigers, and while Auburn fans loved the hire, they just hoped that Malzahn could bring the program back to a level of respectability.
Malzahn did much more than that. The Tigers finished the regular season at 11-1, the only loss coming in a downpour, on the road, against the LSU Tigers.
Auburn won the Southeastern Conference Western Division by downing their arch rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide, on a missed field goal return for a touchdown. Auburn then beat the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game before falling to the Florida State Seminoles in the BCS Championship Game.
In 2014, the challenge will be much different for Auburn. The Tigers must prove that they can handle success. They will now be the team with the bulls-eye on their back, the favorite to win the SEC once again, and the team that everyone wants to knock off. The good news is, quarterback Nick Marshall returns to run Malzahn’s up-tempo offense, and that should be a huge benefit for Auburn in 2014.
How Malzahn and his team handle that role will define the 2014 Auburn season. If the team is mature enough to handle those high expectations, it could be another banner year on the Plains. But if those expectations become too much, Auburn could slip a notch and fall back into the always-strong SEC pack.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.