After beating the Virginia Cavaliers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to finish at 8-5, 2012 was supposed to be a year of improvement for Gene Chizik's club. Two new coordinators were brought in (Scott Loeffler on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense) and the Tigers were picked right outside of the top 25 in the AP Poll this preseason.
The first third of the schedule was tough. Auburn lost to Clemson in the Georgia Dome and then dropped a road game at Mississippi State. Their home opener, against UL-Monroe, was supposed to be a walkover, but the WarHawks shocked the college football world with an upset of Arkansas and fought to the very last second against the Tigers. The next week, in a traditional, defense-rules-the-day SEC contest, the Bayou Bengals escaped The Plains with a 12-10 victory.
A 1-3 record had fans grumbling, but all three losses came against ranked opponents. Looking at the schedule, the next month seemed very favorable and presented an opportunity to get the season back on track. The disastrous 1-4 Razorbacks were next, fresh off a humiliating 58-10 loss in College Station. But instead of bouncing back, Auburn plunged off the deep end with an embarrassing 24-7 loss to John L. Smith.
Next was a road trip to beautiful Oxford, Mississippi to take on Ole Miss and their sixteen SEC conference game losing streak. Surely they would beat the Rebels right? Nope. Auburn was blown out 41-20.
And with their tails firmly tucked under their legs, the Tigers headed to Nashville last week against a usual SEC doormat, 2-4 Vanderbilt. Their 17-13 loss to the Commodoes moved the Tigers to 1-6 on the year and the bottom of the SEC West.
It's difficult to imagine, but only two years after winning a national championship, Gene Chizik is on the hottest seat in the country (John L. Smith excluded because it's common knowledge he's done). Let's look at the remainder of the schedule to see if there is any way he survives this season:
10/27/12 Texas A&M
This Saturday one of the top offenses in the country, led by freshman phenom Johnny Manziel, makes the trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Aggies are coming off a tough loss at home to LSU; a highly emotional and physical game. Does Kevin Sumlin's ball club have a let down this week and come out flat? With a top 25 match up against Mississippi State set next week, do the Aggies take this Auburn team for granted and get caught looking ahead? All valid concerns for Aggie fans.
Not to mention the recent turnover issues that have reared their ugly head. Statistically, these two defenses are pretty similar. Offensively however, they couldn't be further apart. The Aggies are the SEC's best offensive unit, while Auburn is the league's worst. If Texas A&M is able to protect the football, it's going to be tough for the Tigers to get their second win of the season this week.
11/03/2012 New Mexico State
Next week, Auburn hosts their second consecutive group of Aggies. This time it's the struggling New Mexico State variety. These Aggies, from the WAC, have also only won one game thus far; a blowout of Sacramento State in the first game of the year. This game should double Auburn's total wins for the season at two.
When the Bulldogs come to town they will either be leading the Eastern division race, or completely out of it. Regardless, the defending SEC East champs are a very good football team. To have a chance in this game, Auburn will have to miraculously find an offense against one of the top defenses in the league.
11/17/2012 Alabama A&M
The Bulldogs from Huntsville, AL are division leaders in the Southwestern Athletic Conference behind a 6-1 record and a stingy defense. While the upset from the small in-state rival isn't out of the question, Auburn should win this game.
11/24/2012 @ Alabama
The Iron Bowl. One of, if not the, biggest rivalry game in all of college football. As in any rivalry, nothing is for certain and anything can happen. That includes a 3-4 win team knocking off the best team in the country. With that said, even former Auburn head coach Pat Dye said on national radio this week that this Alabama team might be the best college football team he's ever seen.
To become bowl eligible, Chizik will have to go unbeaten through the final stretch of the season. In that scenario, with an Iron Bowl victory likely knocking Alabama out of the national title game, his job would be safe for at least one more year. Anything less and he is joining so many of his fellow Americans in the unemployment line.
As with any hot seat, names are already beginning to be rumored as Auburn's 26th head football coach. The most notable name is Bobby Petrino. If you remember, Petrino was almost hired at Auburn while he was the head coach at Louisville. The only problem was word of it leaked to the press before Auburn had fired Tommy Tuberville. It became quite an embarrassing scandal for the program.
The usual suspects such as Alabama DC Kirby Smart, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn also make the list. While Petrino will be back in the SEC in no time, I just don't see it being at Auburn next year. For my money, Strong is easily the best choice. With his SEC ties, known recruiting prowess already successful stint as a head coach, it's a no brainer in my opinion.
It's crucial for whoever is on the Auburn sideline next year to get this proud program headed in the right direction quick. In this league, three or four win seasons can put you at the kiddie table for a long time. It doesn't help when your arch rival keeps hoisting crystal footballs in January either.