A throng of supporters, a band playing mariachi music and, yes, even an unrolled red carpet greeted the Auburn football team as it deplaned at Sky Harbor Airport, a week in advance of the Tigers’ Bowl Championship Series title game against Oregon.
After four long weeks, the magnitude of the game — and what’s in reach — is finally starting to sink in.
“I think today, coming here, makes it a little bit more realistic, because they understand it’s getting closer,” head coach Gene Chizik said in a brief meeting with reporters. “So it’s been a lot of fun, but the focus has been there. We have a lot to do tomorrow when we get back to work.”
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There were no apparent absentees from Auburn’s traveling party. Players who travel with the team are generally eligible to play.
Chizik, who has been hesitant to speak about academic issues regarding any of his players, didn’t entirely answer a question about it Monday.
Asked if everyone is on the trip and eligible, he answered half the question.
“Everybody’s on the trip,” he said.
Auburn went through meetings and walkthroughs Monday morning before departing for the Atlanta airport, sent off by a supportive crowd at the athletic complex. The Tigers chartered a 747 to Phoenix, not far from Scottsdale, where they will both stay and practice.
The Tigers have the first of five remaining practices this morning at Scottsdale Community College (home of the Fighting Artichokes).
Chizik re-iterated that this is a business trip for his team.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for so many people,” said Chizik, who coached in the 2005 BCS title game while Texas’ defensive coordinator.
“You never know when you’re going to get a chance to be here again. Hopefully often, but you never know. And I think our guys understand the importance of the game.”
Chizik sensed the team was a good mood but didn’t know how much of an indicator that might be.
“You know, sometimes you try to read too much into the mood, what they look like, what they’re thinking going into the game,” he said. “And you could think they had a great week of practice and did everything right and you get a different result, and vice versa. You can say, ‘I’m not sure if we’re ready,’ and then you go into the game and they play like gangbusters.
“I do know that our team is extremely excited and I do know that they have prepared very well and have worked extremely hard in practice. So in that regard, no different, no change than the previous 13 weeks.”