Auburn head coach Gene Chizik believes that the springboard for his 2012 Tiger team was their effort in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl that finished last season with a win over Virginia.
Not quite as big a deal that the end of the 2010 season — a BCS national championship — but it’s a start.
Chizik broached that question during his appearance at the annual Southeastern Conference Football Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel, in the second day of a media marathon made longer by the addition of two new conference schools.
“I thought it was a big moment for us,” Chizik said “You might ask, ‘Well, year before you played in the national championship, now you're in the Chick‑Fil‑A Bowl,’ but it was a very big moment for us because that night there were a lot of young football players that stepped up to the plate, and we beat a very good football team in Virginia.”
The Tigers return 16 starters, but only a handful are seniors, “which isn't a lot. But to whom much is given, much is expected. We feel like those seniors that have been starters in the past, we feel like their leadership is key. It's very paramount,” he said.
Chizik is transitioning on his own staff, with a pair of new coordinators: Scot Loeffler on offense and Brian Van Gorder on defense.
“Scot has had a lot of different experiences in his background as an offensive coach,” Chizik said. “He's a tremendous quarterback developing type of football coach. That's very important. He has experience in this league, which is extremely important. He has experience in the NFL. So we're extremely proud to have Scott here. Again, the transition with Scot has been seamless.
“We go back a long ways,” Chizik said of Van Gorder. “Philosophically we're on the exact same page with what we believe in defensively and what we think is the right mixture of a lot of different things, coverage and front‑wise.”
Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen will be a key for Loeffler’s offense, even as the position itself is changing.
“I’m a traditional tight end, but with the way things are in the NFL I’m not sure how you’d define a traditional tight end anymore,” Lutzenkirchen said.
Chizik was one of six head coaches who faced the media throng on Wednesday. Among the others was Arkansas coach John L. Smith, who was signed to a 10-month contract after Bobby Petrino was fired for lying about a relationship with a worker in his office.
Smith was alternately nervous and hilarious in his first SEC Media Days appearance.
When asked if he’d like the job to go on past the end of the contract, Smith exclaimed, “Well, certainly. Do I look stupid? Don't answer that question.”
Smith didn’t flinch when a reporter asked him about any contact with the school before Petrino was fired.
“Could we move on to the next question, at least one with intelligence? No, you didn't get that, did you?” Smith joked. “No, to my knowledge, we did not have any interaction till after Bobby was gone. That had all taken place prior to any of that.”
SEC Media Days concludes Thursday morning with the appearance of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Follow Robert Carter’s updates on Twitter, plus those of numerous other reporters, with the hashtag #SECKickoff12.