I can already feel it. Like whenever I walk into my living room and “Hitch” is on TV, I’ve seen this movie before. Last year, Auburn survived against Washington, had a stud at quarterback, and made you think they could compete for a playoff spot months down the road. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Auburn’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers ended. Stidham did his best not die every Saturday. The offense sputtered. The defense was frustratingly competent enough to make you think they were in every game. They went 8-5 and it felt like they went 4-8
You know which fanbase is never frustrated? Vanderbilt. It must be nice. You go into every season just hoping not to finish last in the SEC East. You would like to have a run like Kentucky had a season ago every once in a while, but you know that’s not realistic every season. You can’t be disappointed no matter how badly Alabama beats you on national television because it’s Alabama and you’re Vanderbilt. You don’t have the horses, you don’t have the coaching staff and you don’t have the expectations of a contender every year. Vanderbilt is never winning a national title and every Commodore-loving human knows that. They’re cool just beating Tennessee.
That’s not how it works with Auburn. You have the talent every year to contend. You are expected to contend every year. You have a coach who has taken you the National Championship. You have a defensive coordinator who is more consistent than Chick-Fil-A’s customer service. You usually have a quarterback who isn’t Kyle Shurmur-like. You open the season with another should-be contender and you beat them. Then you have a couple of cream puffs, which are somehow more frustrating to watch than an episode of Season 67 of “The Walking Dead”. I’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t get better.
As it stands right now, the Tigers are No. 8 in the country. They ended the Oregon Ducks’ playoff chances, they struggled with Kent State and struggled even more with Tulane. They’re 3-0. This should feel good. They did what they were supposed to. Kind of. The difference between Malzahn’s 3-0 and Kirby Smart’s 3-0 is clear and obvious -- Georgia is leaving no room for questions. Auburn is adding more. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson are stepping on inferior team’s necks and Auburn is losing in the second quarter to the Green Wave. Nothing comes easy for this group. Again.
It’s all too familiar. This weekend, Auburn takes on the Texas A&M Aggies. A team this season that mirrors LSU last season -- a veteran quarterback who has struggled early, an elite defense and talent everywhere. A season ago, Auburn survived the Aggies 28-24. At home. The Aggies aren’t as good of a football team as the Ducks, who the Tigers beat on a neutral field, but the Tigers beat a Washington team that was better than LSU and still lost to Ed Orgeron’s bunch. I could see a similar situation playing out this weekend -- Bo Nix is wildly inaccurate, the team can’t run the football, and the defense keeps them in the game for far too long. 31-27 in favor of the Aggies feels right and I hate it.
I shouldn’t be dreading Auburn’s first conference game with a true freshman quarterback with a little Baker Mayfield in him. This team should be fun and exciting because having a young and exciting quarterback should make every Saturday a joyous occasion regardless of the result. Unfortunately, that is not the Gus Malzahn Experience. Even with Malzahn calling plays again, it’s hard to see a whole lot of difference between last year’s team and this year’s team -- good defense, so-so offensive line, a hit-or-miss rushing attack and quarterback on the run. The difference is Nix can actually move around while Stidham chose brain damage over green pastures.
Have you looked at Auburn’s remaining schedule? If I’m feeling a little too good after my morning coffee, I’ll take a peak and remind myself that we can’t have nice things. A Mississippi State team pissed off after dropping a game at home to Kansas State. Great. A Florida team on the road with Matt Saracen under center. Phenomenal. An Arkansas team that is chomping at the bit to win just one SEC West game in 2019. Cool. Oh? Then to LSU? Perfect. What’s that? A closing slate of Georgia and Alabama. Splendid.
I’ve seen this movie before. Just replace 2018 Liberty with 2019 Samford and we’re in business. 8-4 is not only on the table it’s the safest bet. A true freshman quarterback not losing to all of Georgia, LSU, Alabama along with not dropping a stupid one to an inferior West team at home? That doesn’t feel right. 8-4 feels right. Kellen Mond remembering to play like Colin Kaepernick and get back on track after a rough game against Clemson feels right. This Saturday, it starts. The painful reminder that Kenny Dillingham didn’t fix Auburn and Gus Bus is out of gas. The painful reminder that Nix may not complete over 50 percent of his passes this season. The painful reminder that Boobie Whitlow is averaging over 5 yards per carry and it feeling like 3. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen this damn movie before.