HOOVER - If you put your ear to the ground at Southeastern Conference Media Days, you might have heard that Auburn is a football program on the rise. But you'd have been more likely to hear something else if you heard anything at all.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
As with just about anywhere you go in college football these days, you'd have heard that Alabama and LSU have separated themselves from the rest of the league and no one else is close. You'd have heard about Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina, even a little about Mississippi State. You'd have heard a whole lot about Alabama coach Nick Saban.
You wouldn't have heard all that much about Auburn, which won the national championship 18 months ago.
So what is Auburn football? Where does it really stand in the grand scheme of things in the SEC? It's something of a complex question.
On one side, this is Auburn football:
* Two unbeaten seasons, a national championship and an two SEC championships in the past eight seasons.
* Seasons of 14, 13 and 11 wins the past eight seasons.
* Thirty wins in the past three seasons.
* Recruiting classes that, according to three services, averaged being ranked No. 7 nationally the past three seasons. That doesn't include the upcoming class, ranked No. 5 by 247Sports as of today.
* The best record in the West against SEC teams over the past 20 seasons.
* A 5-5 record against Saban in his five seasons at LSU and five at Alabama.
* A Heisman Trophy winner, a Lombardi Award winner and a Thorpe Award winner in the past eight seasons.
* Three perfect records in the past 19 seasons and two in the past, more in both instance than any team in the SEC.
On the other side, this is Auburn football:
* After the national championship, more than 30 players were lost to graduation or the NFL draft. Because of a significant amount of attrition, there were precious few veterans to replace them.
* Though last season's 8-5 record was better than almost anyone expected, the closest of those losses was by 14 points. Auburn lost to LSU, Georgia and Alabama, it's three biggest rivals, by a combined 101 points.
* Much to their shame and the embarrassment of the Auburn program, four players were arrested last year and charged with armed robbery.
* Mike Dyer became the first Auburn running back ever to break the 1,000-yard barrier in each of his first two seasons, was suspended and left the program.
Clearly, there is a lot to celebrate about Auburn football. But there are also some problems to ponder.
Senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said at Media Days that there has been a noticeable change in attitude from the past among younger players. And he welcomed it.
“It’s finally to a point where we’ve gotten the kind of guys in our program that will, when they’re young, come in with humble heads and just try to do things the Auburn way,” Lutzenkirchen said, “come in with a level head, compete and try to get better.”
When Chizik was named head coach in December 2008, no one could have predicted a national championship in 2010. It happened, but Chizik knew as well as anyone that the program was not built. Not by a long shot. It still isn't, but it's getting close.
No Auburn coaching staff in my memory has consistently recruited at the level this one has. As Chizik said, one more recruiting class is needed to have a roster that can, top to bottom, look the best in the eye. Auburn has the talent to compete now, to start to add to tradition of Auburn football.
But much of that talent is still young. These Tigers will, as Chizik said earlier this summer, still probably fall and scrape their knees.
When will Auburn football be talked about at SEC Media Days like Alabama and LSU are talked about? When will it again reach the gaudy heights of 2010? Will it?
There's no way to say for sure. But despite adversity, despite some players who insisted on being knuckleheads, Auburn football is moving in the right direction and closing in on the opportunity to accomplish big things again.
At least that's the way it looks today.