As a former head football coach in the Southeastern Conference, I have a good feel of what the head coaches across the league are going through this time of year as they look to make the right moves at practice and in the meeting rooms to prepare their teams for season openers.
With less than two weeks remaining before playing a game that counts on the record there is no time to waste, and it is critical that the head coach and his assistants are thoroughly prepared every day, every hour, every minute.
Every time of year is important in building a college football team, starting in January with offseason workouts, but this is the time when there is a lot more urgency and you better have a good plan for getting ready to perform well in the opener. It needs to be part of an overall plan that allows a team to grow and improve throughout the course of a season.
I know when I was coaching at Auburn it was my goal for our team to be playing its best football at the end of the season because you want a group that is continually striving to get better. In our case that was especially important because we faced our challenging rivalry games that time. Auburn still plays its major rivals, Georgia and Alabama, at the end of the regular season, but when I was coaching we also played Florida, which is why we called it Amen Corner. If we didn’t have a good football team we weren’t going to make it through those opponents without losses. Every year we did finish on top in each of those games we won the conference championship.
College head coaches have to keep a close eye on their players as they put the finishing touches on getting their teams ready. You have to keep working them, and working them hard if you think they aren’t ready to handle game situations, but it is important that you give them rest time, too. You don’t want a tired football team to open the season. In Auburn’s case, opening against a strong opponent like Louisville, it will be important that Gus Malzahn’s Tigers show up fresh with plenty of energy when they and the Cardinals meet on Sept. 5th at the Georgia Dome.
As a coach you hope that your older players are 100 percent mentally ready to go with their assignments and attitudes, and you do your best to make sure the young guys do a lot of learning so they will be as close to the older guys as possible. Because of that at times you have to work the younger guys at a brisker pace than the younger guys.
An example of that with this year’s Auburn team is that the coaching staff is making sure its young defensive backs are ready to play on opening day because of the need to have as many of those players ready to contribute as possible because of the lack of depth at the safety and cornerback spots.
While it is important that the Tigers put in the hours on the field, particularly the young guys, the worst thing that could happen would be to put a tired team on the field at the Georgia Dome vs. Louisville.
With the Tigers replacing a lot of key guys from the 2014 team the coaches have had plenty of work to do this preseason. I will be shocked if Auburn goes out there and looks like a polished, veteran football team.
I also think this group will have to grow a lot during the season to justify the preseason predictions that the Tigers will be a Top 10 team as well as the team favored to win the SEC Championship Game in December.
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