Going into the 2017 season, there was growing tension between head coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn fan base.
After an exciting 2013 campaign in his first season, everyone was excited for what was to come in the Malzahn era. With the loss of Heisman finalist Tre Mason and many other talented players, the excitement never seemed to return.
One of the issues had been the quarterback position, which had been inconsistent since Nick Marshall left after the 2014 season. Going into 2017, that problem was figured out with Jarrett Stidham.
Going into November, Stidham has proven himself to be a great quarterback. The issue is that the team is still underperforming in big games, so the problem may go deeper than the quarterback position.
After a disappointing, but not entirely surprising loss to Clemson, Malzahn’s seat was warming back up. It began to cool as Auburn dominated its opponents and rose to the top 10 in the AP rankings. After a crushing loss to LSU, in which Auburn gave up a 20-point lead, Malzahn’s seat was hot again.
Auburn has three remaining SEC games, and all three could go either way. With Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama remaining, Malzahn could really make his stock rise. He could also lose his job.
Let’s look at the possible scenarios going into November:
Auburn wins out
Winning out would give Auburn a chance at the playoff for the first time with a 10-2 record. There is no question that that would cool everything down, but winning out is a difficult task when you have the two best teams in the country on your remaining schedule.
Malzahn hasn’t been able to beat either Alabama or Georgia in the last three years and has gone 1-2 against Texas A&M. Beating all of them would be an amazing accomplishment and would send the Tigers to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC championship. If this happens, then Gus stays.
Auburn beats two of the three
If this is the case, expect Texas A&M to be one of the three. Auburn goes in as about a 15.5-point favorite and, barring another offensive collapse like the LSU game, should win somewhat easily.
The hard part comes with Auburn’s two biggest rivals. Georgia and Alabama are both undefeated and have beaten Malzahn the last three years. The good news is that both games are in Auburn, and it should only take one of those wins to make Auburn fans happy.
Auburn goes one and two in its last three games
This is the most complicated situation. If Auburn beats Texas A&M but loses to Georgia and Alabama, the program will have a tough decision to make. It would mean another eight-win season for Malzahn and another year of insignificance in the playoff race.
At a school like Vanderbilt or even Arkansas, an eight-win season means keeping your job no matter what. At Auburn, four seasons in a row under nine wins will have fans calling for your head. Don’t forget that this scenario would also mean Malzahn going 0-8 in the two biggest games on Auburn’s schedule in the last four years.
Auburn loses all three of its remaining SEC games
If Malzahn loses to all three SEC opponents, there is a good chance that he is out at the end of the season. In Auburn’s three seasons since its BCS title game appearance, the Tigers have failed to top eight wins and have gone 1-2 in bowl games. Doing so again would show signs of complacency in the program and Auburn’s patience with Malzahn could run out.
This would mean losing to Georgia and Alabama four years in a row, along with losing to Clemson two years in a row and losing to LSU and Texas A&M teams that Auburn was heavily favored over. A 7-5 season would likely cost Malzahn his job, but it is possible that the program would choose to keep him.
Gus Malzahn’s head coaching contract with Auburn runs through the 2020 season. If he were fired by the program, Malzahn would be paid $2,237,500 for each year remaining on his contract. A buy-out with that price tag may lead to the program giving him more time to figure everything out, but Auburn’s performance in November could make that price worth paying.
Auburn currently sits at No. 14 n the CFP rankings with a 6-2 record and a 4-1 SEC record heading into the most difficult stretch of the season. The Tigers will begin that stretch against a 5-3 Texas A&M team on Saturday.