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October 23, 2013

Malzahn leads No. 11 Auburn to huge turnaround

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn defensive end Dee Ford has visions of another surprising national title run.

Even if that proves a stretch, the 11th-ranked Tigers have risen from a dreadful season to the brink of the Top 10 with an about-face that’s come with the rapidity of the next play in Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle offense.

A road upset of Johnny Manziel and then-No. 7 Texas A&M vaulted Auburn (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) 13 spots in the rankings and made the Tigers perhaps the chief challenger to No. 1 Alabama in the Western Division.

Ford’s ambition goes beyond that. Way beyond.

“I think we can win it all. You know?” he said. “There’s no reason to say that we can’t. We said we wanted to have the biggest turnaround in college football. Why not win it all?

“But we’re going to keep getting better every practice, every game, every week, and look and see where it can take us. We can definitely win it all if we do that.”

It would be an even bigger surprise than the Tigers’ 2010 national title. Only this time there’s no Cam Newton leading the way.

Auburn is certainly in an unexpected position after Saturday’s 45-41 win over the Aggies, who won last year’s meeting by six touchdowns.

The Tigers have already doubled their win total from last season when they lost all eight SEC games, many of them in ugly fashion.

Malzahn set about installing his fast-paced offense, run by dual-threat junior college transfer Nick Marshall, and repeatedly preaching his “it’s a new day” theme.

His latest refrain, uttered after most games, is “We haven’t arrived.” Malzahn trotted it out twice on Tuesday.

“You look across college football, the teams that don’t keep improving throughout the year, it’s relevant,” Malzahn said on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of ups and downs and that’s our challenge. We’ve got to keep rolling, take it one game at a time and stay focused.”

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