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#PMARSHONAU: Balancing act

There aren’t many good things that come from year that includes last-place finishes in football and basketball. One coach lost his job. The other needs badly to win next season. The baseball team won’t finish last, but it won’t finish in the first division either.

For Auburn and its supporters, unaccustomed to such depths, it was a bitter turn of events. But the forgettable athletic year that has been 2012-2013 is winding down. There is still hope for the baseball team to find its way to a regional. There is golf to play and track to run. And then will be over.

In just a little more than 3 ½ months, Gus Malzahn’s first Auburn football team will take the field against Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium and it will all begin anew.

As with any athletic year at Auburn, the football team will set the tone for 2013-14.

Malzahn and the extraordinarily impressive staff he hired have done just about everything right so far. Led by Dameyune Craig’s march on Mobile, recruiting is off and running. That’s all good and all points to a bright future.

But will it be enough to win in 2013?

Malzahn has a difficult balancing act. He must re-energize a football team and a fan base while, at the same time, controlling expectations. If you look at Malzahn’s history as an offensive coordinator and head coach, you can expect his first Auburn team to be much better at the end of the season than at the beginning. But fans, still stinging from last season’s disaster, will likely find it difficult to be patient.

Auburn has good enough players to win. But it does not have as many players who have proved they can win as Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and South Carolina. That doesn’t mean Auburn can’t beat those teams, and it will have its chance against all but South Carolina and Florida.

It doesn’t stop there. Games against Washington State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee aren’t sure wins either. Such is life in the SEC.

Malzahn, with dual jobs of winning immediately and building a program for the future, will have to convince his players and those who cheer for them to keep the faith and stay the course. He can’t be deterred by the first loss or the second or the third, whenever they come.

Malzahn and his coaches have succeeded already in changing the mindset of Auburn players. The malaise of 2012 seems to have been overcome. Auburn players are confident and excited. They believe in their coaches and they expect to succeed.

Players lost faith in themselves and their coaches last season and, down the stretch, looked like a directional school wearing Auburn uniforms. But that’s over. A new year rushes ever closer.

And with it comes hope that better days are ahead.

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