FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The extra bit of emotion was clear outside the Auburn locker room following a 35-17 win over Arkansas, even if Tigers' coach Gus Malzahn only admitted it in bits and pieces.
Whether the habitually reserved Malzahn wanted to admit it or not, the smiles and hugs among his friends and family told the story of how much the win meant — especially after his first three trips to his home state ended with losses.
"And I knew that, there's no doubt," Malzahn said.
Now that Malzahn's homecoming is out of the way, the story line for Auburn becomes itself.
More specifically, the remarkable season the No. 7 Tigers (8-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) have put together — rising from the ashes of last season's 3-9 collapse to rank among the SEC's best heading into their final three games of the season.
Exactly how far Auburn can ride its current five-game winning streak is unclear. What is clear is Malzahn and the Tigers believe there's nothing they can't overcome, even with a schedule that includes next week's trip to Tennessee before home games against Georgia and top-ranked Alabama.
"I think it was big for (Malzahn)," Auburn linebacker Jake Holland said. "I think it's big for the whole team. We're 8-1 now and each week getting better."
While the Tigers still have hope of reaching the SEC championship game for the first time since their national championship season of 2010, the Razorbacks (3-6, 0-5) are now one loss away from sealing a second straight season without a bowl appearance.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was full of optimism when he was hired away from Wisconsin last December, but he appears closer than ever to missing out on a bowl game for the first time in his eighth season as a head coach.
The myriad of season-long problems for the struggling Razorbacks were once again in full force on Saturday, from three turnovers on offense to a defense that allowed 233 yards rushing by Auburn.
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