The people's voice of reason





Auburn has a direct line to the 2017 National Championship. But, the path goes through the state of Georgia. First there is the SEC Championship in Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 2nd. Another win over the Georgia Bulldogs locks up a date for Auburn in the NCAA top four football playoff in January. That sounds easy since the Tigers mauled the Bulldogs in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, November 11th. Beware, it is very difficult to beat a good team twice in one year and, make no mistake about it, Georgia is a good team. With a win over Auburn in Atlanta, Georgia goes to the playoff. Either way the path to the national championship runs right back through Georgia again. The same Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is the site of the national championship in January. So, Auburn players, coaches and fans will have Georgia on their minds for the next month.

The semifinals of the playoffs will be played in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. But, to Auburn, their championship run is through the State of Georgia. This is really a great opportunity for Auburn. The Atlanta area has the largest concentration of Auburn fans than any place in the country. Mercedes-Benz is sold out for the SEC championship game and the national title game. Expect the attendance to be 60% Georgia and 40% Auburn. There is no doubt in my mind that the Auburn fans played a big part in helping the Tigers beat Alabama on November 25th. The Alabama players had difficulty communicating and that led to several bad plays for the Tide.

Speaking of the Tide, there is an outside chance that they can make it into the final four. A loss by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game is one log that has to fall. Ohio State is quite capable of beating Wisconsin. The next log to fall would be a loss by Oklahoma to TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game. This is probably unlikely the way Oklahoma is playing now, but the TCU defense has risen to the occasion many times in the Coach Gary Patterson era. New Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley could make a rookie mistake, but don’t count on it. Another scenario is to have Clemson lose to Miami in the ACC championship game. This would make Clemson 11-2 and Miami 11-1. If all these unlikely events occur, Oklahoma would be 11-2 versus Alabama’s 11-1. Wisconsin would be 12-1 having lost to 11-2 Ohio State. Miami would be 11-1 and Clemson would be 11-2. Alabama’s 11-1 stacks up well against any 11-2 team, and well enough against Miami at 11-1 and Wisconsin at 12-1. Georgia has to lose to Auburn making Georgia 11-2, which will not top Alabama’s 11-1. So, there is a chance for Alabama, be it a slender one. The NCAA four-team playoff has never been without Alabama. It might just happen this year.

Now, how did Auburn get to this place where they are on the brink of a second national championship run under the guidance of Coach Gus Malzahn? With a 6-2 record Auburn faced Texas A&M in College Station, undefeated Georgia at Jordan-Hare and undefeated Alabama in the Eagles Nest as well.

I wrote in my November column that six SEC coaches were in serious trouble with their administration, alumni officials and their fan base.

They were Jim McElwain at Florida, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Hugh Freeze had already been fired at Ole Miss. The sixth SEC coach that I listed was Gus Malzahn of Auburn. My exact words concerning Coach Malzahn was that the end of the season could get ugly. Auburn had given the LSU game away in October, and tried to use an unbelievable offensive game plan in a loss to Clemson by eight points in September. Auburn people were not happy. At 6-2, Auburn faced Texas A&M on the road, Georgia and Alabama at home. This looked like at best an 8-4 finish again for sure.

Credit Guz Malzahn with the perseverance and stamina to face this lineup with confidence in himself, his offensive coordinator and in his defensive coordinator. He became a Division 1 head coach during that stretch by deciding to give the offense to Coach Chip Lindsey and the defense to Coach Kevin Steele, giving him the opportunity to be a head coach doing what head coaches do. From this point in the season Auburn raced through those last four games with big wins over Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. That “feeble” 6-2 record became 10-2 with a chance to play for the national championship. I don’t remember such a drastic turnaround in a very long time.

Congratulations to a good man who may have turned into a really good head coach, Gus Malzahn!


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