While plenty of that comes from the hard work the Auburn Tigers put in over the winter and summer in the weight room, the biggest reason why is because one thing. Gus Malzahn is back at Auburn.
The coach who recruited many of the offensive players on the current roster, Malzahn's system is comfortable and home for them and his presence gives them belief. That is why when he decided to come back it meant the world to players such as Quan Bray.
"There are a couple tweaks here and there," Bray said about Malzahn's offense the second time around. "Malzahn's always got some good things up his sleeves. It's a blessing that he came back. It really is a blessing. He recruited a lot of us. For him to leave--he had choices he had to make. For him to come back to the guys he recruited, God works in mysterious ways."
A solid part of the offense as a true freshman in 2011, catching 17 passes for 93 yards, Bray just never seemed to fit in Scot Loeffler's system last season. Even though he finished fourth on the Auburn team with 14 catches, Bray's disappearance for an offense that struggled to move the football was baffling. Now back in the system he chose to play in coming out of LaGrange, Ga., Bray said he's ready to get this season started.
"It's real exciting," Bray said. "Going into the camp tomorrow we've got a lot of things to look forward to. We have a lot of things to prove. We need to show all of the hard work has paid off from this summer. It's real exciting to get back on the field."
Bray said he believes this group of Auburn receivers has a chance to be one of the biggest surprises on the team this season. Taking on a leadership role along with fellow junior Trovon Reed and redshirt sophomore Sammie Coates, Bray said the group has plenty of fuel to drive them towards a strong 2013.
"I think a lot of people are sleeping on us and that's what we need," Bray said. "Of course, coming off the 3-9 season why wouldn't they do that? It's good. We need that downfall. I feel real good about the receivers."
Something that should help the receivers is going to be an improvement at the quarterback position. Playing in a system designed to take some of the pressure off the quarterback, newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are expected to challenge returning starters Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace for the position in preseason practice.
Already very familiar with Marshall after playing AAU basketball with him while in high school, Bray said there is no doubting the junior college transfer's talent and he has already seen that on display this summer.
"I know him, I've seen him on the field and the court," Bray said of Marshall. "He's definitely an athlete.
"He's definitely got an arm on him--from the short routes to the deep routes. He's a nice quarterback, definitely. We've got some guys who can go get it if he throws it 80 yards."
As one of the veterans on the Auburn offense, Bray said one of his jobs as a leader is to get the younger players ready for what they'll face during the camp that starts on Friday. He said that carries over to Marshall as well because as a quarterback he has to take on a role as a leader for the team beginning with the first day.
"I try to tell him what Malzahn expects, to speak up and take control," Bray noted. "As a quarterback he has to take control and be that guy everybody looks up to and fights for. He's coming along real well."
In the end this season won't hinge on one player or one position, but it's more about a new attitude surrounding the program. Bray said being around the football complex he can see an obvious difference comparing last year to this summer.
"Guys not coming in and putting in the extra work to be the best," he said was something he remembers about last season. "The difference in ordinary and extraordinary is 'extra,' right? I don't think a lot of guys bought in. We have bought in to what Malzahn is doing, and definitely Coach Russell (strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell). He's definitely motivating a lot of guys to be the best they can be."
Auburn opens practice Friday evening with the first scheduled team workout of the preseason.