Auburn wasn’t going to flinch.
It didn’t matter who the SEC put on the team’s new schedule. It didn’t matter how many powerhouses got thrown at Auburn in a row. Everyone who has followed them knows that the Tigers don’t back down from the gauntlet.
“Listen, put me in a parking lot, with bears, and I’ll go out there and play,” KJ Britt said, shrugging.
It’s hard to doubt him. Auburn takes great pride in fighting through one of the hardest schedules in college football seemingly every year now, so getting two new games against SEC powers wasn’t going to shake the team.
In fact: Not only is Auburn unbothered by the challenge of playing 10 SEC games this fall instead of eight, but the players and coaches consider the league’s brutal new schedule an advantage.
In this unusual year, the Tigers figure the rest of the league is just being welcomed to their world.
“I believe that our schedule has been preparing us since I’ve been here for a season like this,” said Britt, Auburn’s leader and the heart of the defense at linebacker. “We have been going week in, week out, year in, year out, tough schedule to tough schedule. I believe this right here is what Auburn is used to.
“I believe everybody is going to be ready to play, everybody is going to be ready to fight, everybody is going to have something to prove,” Britt said of his teammates. “That’s going to be the biggest thing; people playing with a chip on their shoulder and having something to prove. I believe that will be the biggest thing that helps separate us.”
Auburn saw Tennessee and South Carolina added to the eight SEC games it already had scheduled for 2020. Due to concerns over the coronavirus, the SEC overhauled its fall completely to create a conference-only schedule that allows maximum flexibility to postpone games or shift sites as needed autonomously.
With the overhaul came two more games added to each schedule with two teams from the most elite conference in the country, but last year, Auburn felt like it already played an additional SEC-caliber opponent in Oregon on top of its eight SEC games, and the year before that it was Washington.
“I’m looking at this thing as a positive,” head coach Gus Malzahn said bluntly, in a recent press conference through Zoom. “If you look, since we’ve been here, we’ve made a great argument that we’ve had the toughest schedule of anybody in our league. The one thing that will not be a shock to our system is playing a tough schedule with a lot of SEC games. I think there are teams in our conference that it’s going to be a shock to the system, because they haven’t played the tough schedule like we have.
“We’re looking at that as an advantage, and I think it will be for us.”
On top of Auburn’s penchant for playing powerful non-conference opponents, Auburn also plays in what’s regularly considered the best division in the best conference — the SEC West — and every year it plays a perennial power in the SEC East in rival Georgia.
“I feel like we always have a tough schedule, so it’s an advantage to us, basically, because we’re used to it,” safety Smoke Monday said.
Auburn opens its remixed season on Sept. 26 against Kentucky at home. Currently, Auburn plans to allow only current students into the general seating area. The Auburn football team has completed two straight rounds of COVID-19 testing with zero new positives, putting them in position to prepare comfortably.
That Kentucky game will start the murderer’s row of 10 straight games against 10 SEC opponents, which would seem unfathomable just about any other year — and maybe to just about any other team, too.
But Auburn embraces the challenge.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a little unique and different, and we’re going to have to go at it one week at a time and really focus in on our opponent because SEC games are SEC games regardless of who it is,” quarterback Bo Nix said. “I think that’s the biggest adjustment we’re going to have to make is each week is going to be extremely important and more important than the last week.”
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