Wednesday, January 1
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Gus Malzahn knows this is no ordinary bowl preparation, but No. 2 Auburn's coach said the big-game trappings won't distract his team.
The different scene was evident when the straight-laced Malzahn and players Reese Dismukes and Dee Ford posed for photos with Disney characters right after climbing off the team bus upon arriving in Southern California on Tuesday night.
The Tigers (12-1) are surprising participants in Monday night's BCS championship game with No. 1 Florida State at the Rose Bowl.
"I'll just say this about these guys," Malzahn said at Downtown Disney's ESPN Zone. "They've found a way to stay focused and get prepared each week, no matter who we were playing, whether we were playing Alabama or a Division I-AA team.
"This group has been extremely focused. They've worked hard. They've acted exactly the same way in practice. There's no doubt in my mind that we're not going to be distracted."
The Tigers are trying to keep the businesslike approach that has led to nine straight wins, even if a couple of them were settled in extraordinary fashion.
Auburn rode last-gasp wins over Alabama and Georgia and an overpowering SEC championship game against Missouri into the matchup with Florida State.
Now, the Tigers say they're intent on just going to work ahead of the biggest one of them all.
"Just taking the experience and enjoying everything that's going on," said Dismukes, an offensive lineman who seemed mostly bemused by the Disney to-do. "When it's time to go to work, you've got to go to work."
Senior defensive end Dee Ford wants to savor the experience — and finish his career with a win.
"We definitely want to enjoy the moment," Ford said. "It's a blessing my last time here being able to enjoy this with my teammates. I definitely want to soak in the moment and also be focused when it's time to be."
Malzahn said he can draw on experience as Auburn's offensive coordinator during the 2010 national championship season to deal with issues like the month-long gap between games. That team included a few players who are still around, including Ford.
"Any time you play in the national championship game, there's a lot that goes with it," Malzahn said. "First of all, there's a long layoff, so strategically you've got to plan your practices and everything that goes with that. Then once you get here, it's not a normal bowl week. There's a lot of extra stuff that goes with it.
"So that past experience has got to help us. "
A more recent experience was last season's misery, which led to Gene Chizik's firing and Malzahn's re-hiring, this time as head man. These Tigers have already won nine more games than that 3-9 team whose season was long done by now.
Ford said the Tigers are adopting their coach's philosophy taking it one thing at a time instead of getting swept up in that storyline.
"When you put in work, you expect results," he said. "But you don't really process that into your mind. You're staying focused on the task at hand. You don't look at big-picture stuff, winning the national championship. You're focused on the task at hand."