'Battle-tested' Auburn thrives in big games

AUBURN, Ala. -- Since losing to LSU early in the season, Auburn has won nine straight games and knocked off three top-10 teams in the process. The Tigers were supposed to lose at No. 7 Texas A&M. Nobody gave them a chance against No. 1 Alabama. And some even picked against them when they played No. 5 Missouri in the SEC championship game.

All Auburn did was win each of those games and prove the critics wrong time and time again. Now the Tigers are preparing to face No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game and to nobody’s surprise, they are once again the underdogs.

“I don’t care who they talk about as the favorite especially when you have two weeks to prepare,” Auburn defensive end Dee Ford said. “Honestly, if you’re a top caliber team -- I think any top-five team could play with two weeks to prepare. Once the ball is rolled out, it’s time to play football. It really doesn’t matter about any rankings.

“I could care less about people not believing or saying, ‘This is the time they’re going to fall.’ We prepare for this.”

If anything, Auburn is more battle tested than Florida State heading into next Monday’s title game. The Seminoles have dominated their schedule, winning every game by at least 14 points and having an average margin of victory of 43 points. But they played four top 25 teams, two of which are no longer ranked.

Meanwhile, Auburn played six top 25 teams, four in the top 10, and nine of its 13 opponents are playing in a bowl game.

“I think if you look at our entire schedule, I would like to think we are battle tested,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’ve been in some true dogfight games. We’ve been in some games where the pressure was on -- on the road, at home -- and our guys have responded. In big games, I know they are not going to panic, so I’ve got to believe that will help us moving forward.”

It’s not just the caliber of opponents they have played this season. It’s how they’ve won. “Dogfight games” doesn’t even begin to describe some of their victories.

It took a game-winning drive in the final minutes to knock off both Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Against Georgia, Auburn connected on a 73-yard Hail Mary with less than a minute left to hold off the Bulldogs. And how can you forget the field-goal return by Chris Davis to take down Alabama in the Iron Bowl?

“There were times that things didn’t look good at all,” Malzahn said. “I’d always look on the sidelines and didn’t see anybody defeated, didn’t see anybody with their head down. They really believed, and they found a way to do it.”

“We know how to fight and we know how to battle and to push through and win a football game even when it’s tough,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “I think that’s a huge benefit. There’s always ups and downs in football games, and you have to know how to overcome that.”

It has been a miraculous run for this Auburn football team. The Tigers leave for California this week, and regardless of the point spread or what the outside world is saying, they will be confident and prepared when they take the field next week.

This is the type of game, the type of moment, Auburn lives for.

"It's just something that we embrace, embrace the moment of being in the spotlight and playing big teams,” quarterback Nick Marshall said. “We just know we have to keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be all right. We're going to find a way to win the game."