For the Auburn Tigers under Coach Gus Malzahn, it has been a little of both.
Putting in the work under new strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell during the offseason, the Tigers got a taste of what to expect in spring practice and responded well, but the true test wouldn't come until the regular season.
Needing a last-minute touchdown drive that culminated with a Nick Marshall pass to C.J. Uzomah, the Tigers won a game that in all likelihood they would not have won last season and Uzomah said that's a great step for the program.
"I think that speaks volume to our growth as a team," he said. "We grew up really fast in that short amount of time so I think that helps a lot in confidence and the maturity of our team."
Uzomah has seen the good and bad of Auburn football in the last three seasons. Recruited during Auburn's BCS title run in 2010, Uzomah played as a freshman for the Tigers on a team that finished with a win over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He had the opportunity to play for Malzahn that season as he learned the ropes behind veteran Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Last weekend he had one of his own Lutzenkirchen moments with a huge game-winning catch over the Bulldogs. It sent the crowd into a frenzy along with his coach, something the big tight end didn't expect.
"Coach Lashlee was like: 'Alright, that's good.' Gave him his input, adding in a few more plays. Coach Malzahn seemed as calm as anything. After we scored I saw that fist-pump. That just shows that he has confidence in us and we have confidence in him. When push comes to shove, we'll find a way to win."
That confidence is something the players had in Malzahn as soon as he was named their new coach because most knew of his success as Auburn's offensive coordinator. That confidence has grown with the Tigers off to a 3-0 start.
Uzomah points out that the confidence in Marshall has grown as well. It started before last weekend's clutch performance when the players saw the work he put into being the kind of starting quarterback the coaching staff was looking for, the tight end said.
"He came in and he was overwhelmed with everything that was going as far as Coach Malzahn's expectations for all of us, being perfect," Uzomah said. "If he's supposed to keep his foot in the ground and he picks it up on a run play, then the coach will get after him for it.
"Once he started buying in to things--Coach wants us to be perfect, everyone's being perfect, it's time for me to be perfect--everybody started gathering around him and understanding that he has the potential to be a great quarterback," Uzomah said.
With the toughest test so far this season up next, a road game at LSU, Uzomah said this team has a different feel to it thanks due to that one defining moment at the end of the Mississippi State game. It did more than just show the Tigers they could win a close game coming from behind in the final two minutes, it showed they could do it throwing the football. That's something Auburn hasn't had in a while and Uzomah said it feels good.
"I think that was huge and I think that gave confidence to Nick as well as the receivers," Uzomah said. "I think the coaches are confident now also knowing that we do have a really good passing attack. If the running game isn't there then we can pass, or if the passing game isn't there that we can run."