Looking for the greatest tailgate barbeque food you can find in college football? A traditional Tiger Walk before the game so historical that an allegedly deranged fan from a rival team poisoned trees to weaken it? Or an alumni base that includes the most recent PGA Tour champion, Cam Newton, Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley? Then it’s easy to understand why Auburn is clearly the superior program in its season opener against Washington State.
When Auburn and Washington State kick off their college football seasons on Saturday, the nightmare of 2012 for the Tigers will officially be over.
The Tigers have lots of what it takes to come out on top in their first game of the season. The head coach has brought back an entertaining high-tempo spread offense that helped carry the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. Their quarterback, Nick Marshall, passed for 3,142 yards and rushed for 1,095 yards while playing at a junior college last year. And they also return a 1,000-yard rusher from last season in Tre Mason, and junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne, who was the offensive MVP of the annual A-day spring scrimmage.
With the speed of Mason and the between-the-tackles power of Artis-Payne the Tigers ground game should be too much for the Cougars to handle.
Not only is coach Gus Malzahn bringing a high powered offensive attack back to the Plains, but he hired veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to try and return Auburn back to the hard-nosed defensive mentality it has been known for in the past. It may be his first year, but Johnson has a track record of quick turnarounds: In 2008, Johnson helped improve the South Carolina defense from 56th nationally in total defense to 13th. At Auburn he will have the talent to produce the same results.
Johnson has installed his 4-2-5 defense that highlights a linebacker/safety hybrid player known as the “star” position. Playing this position will be junior Justin Garrett who impressed during spring practice and earned defensive MVP honors in the A-day spring scrimmage. Despite fighting a foot injury in early workouts this season, he’s expected to be set to play.
But let's talk about the two real off-the-field reasons why Auburn will win:
1. History: It's a program that's produced two national championships, 11 SEC championships and three Heisman Trophy winners.
2. This is SEC football: Auburn has some of the most passionate and loyal fans in all of college football, and last season was miserable for them. They will file into Jordan Hare Stadium 87,451 strong, strike up the band and watch the eagle soar to the 50-yard line, screaming War Eagle as they cheer their team onto a victory over Washington State.
-- William Gaines is the sports editor of Auburn University’s student newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman